Chapter One: Marianne’s Birthday
Marianne smiled as she looked around the gathering of people who’d assembled in her honor, though her smile didn’t reach her eyes. She wasn’t entirely sure that her 20th birthday was anything more special than her 19th, and yet her mother and Elinor had been determined to have some of their friends over. In contrast, the last year had been very calm, with Edward, Elinor, her mother, and Margaret, being the only other people in attendance. This year, there were a lot of faces, and Marianne was truly happy to see most of them. John Middleton had immediately offered up his home to host the gathering, which was some relief to her mother as Barton Cottage would not as easily contain the growing guest list.
All of the Middletons were in attendance of course, including Mrs Jennings. The Palmers were also there. A few others roamed about that Marianne had been introduced to yet didn’t really know, but one face was glaringly absent to her; it was that of Colonel Brandon. He’d been called away on business almost a fortnight ago. When he’d stopped by Barton Cottage to say farewell, he’d told her he would try his best to be back in time for her birthday, yet as the party went on, she saw that it was less and less likely to happen.
“Marianne, are you not having fun?” Elinor came up behind her, placing a hand on her arm as she did so.
“I am, yes. It’s nice to see everyone and you and mother have done so well with this.”
“You don’t seem happy, dearest.”
“I’m just a little disappointed that Colonel Brandon wasn’t able to make it.”
Elinor smiled a knowing smile. Her sister and Colonel Brandon were almost inseparable of late. When he was at his residence he frequently visited for walks, or she would visit with Margaret or herself as chaperone to look through his collection of books and music. Elinor and her mother frequently spoke about the relationship, both were sure a marriage was in the future for the two, but no one spoke of it. Least of all Marianne, who insisted that Colonel Brandon was only a dear friend.
“I’m sure he would have been here if he could. Whatever called him away must have been very important.”
“I know you’re right, Elinor. Let’s go enjoy ourselves.” Marianne offered, linking her arm through her sister’s and leading them towards a group of people surrounding Mrs. Jennings.
Margaret, unused to being allowed to stay up so late, was dosing in a chair as Elinor, Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne stood at the front door, waving goodbye to the last of the guests. Sir John stood behind them, smiling broadly. “Well, I think that was a great success for a birthday celebration, don’t you ladies?”
Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood agreed, and Marianne smiled pleasantly at the man. “It was. Thank you so much for hosting this party on my behalf Sir John, it was a lovely evening.”
Mrs. Jennings appeared as they walked back into the house. “Lovely party Mrs. Ferrars, Mrs. Dashwood, you did very well by our Miss Marianne.” She paused before addressing Marianne directly. “I’m so sorry not everyone was in attendance that you’d hoped. It’s so hard to be away from the people we love, isn’t it?”
Marianne’s cheeks colored, and she struggled to say something in response. Luckily, her mother spoke up instead. “We thank you all, but we shouldn’t encroach on your hospitality any longer. We need to get back home, Margaret is in dire need of her bed.”
Elinor spoke next. “Yes, Mr. Ferrars and I need to be heading back as well.”
“Nonsense ladies! I insist you spend your night here. We’ve already planned for it. You can head back to your houses in the morning!” Sir John proclaimed.
Having known the man for several years now, they all three knew that he, nor his mother-in-law, would be put off with ease, so they nodded their heads in acceptance of his invitation, and after a few more shared words, they were all led off to their rooms.
Marianne, who was sharing a room with Margaret, sat by an open window, still in the dress she’d worn earlier in the evening. Once upstairs, she’d found that she wasn’t greatly tired, so chose instead to make use of the library at Barton Park. While it was not as extensive as the one at Delaford, she had been able to find a book she’d not read before. It was there, that she heard the sound of galloping hooves approaching. Closing her book, Marianne leaned forward to look out the window. A cloaked man was rapidly approaching, as he grew nearer, her heartbeat picked up. She recognized him as Colonel Brandon.
Hastily, she placed her book on a nearby table, and slipped her slippers back onto her feet. She opened the door of her room quietly, so as not to wake Margaret, and hurried downstairs to the front door. Despite the party having ended just over an hour before, the house was quiet, even the staff having went to their beds. She reached the front door and opened it, finding the Colonel on the other side, raising his hand to knock. “Colonel!”
Colonel Brandon’s eyes widened at the sight of Marianne opening the door. He’d expected one of Sir John’s staff. “Miss Marianne, Happy Birthday.”
Marianne grinned at him, before stepping aside so he could come in. “Thank you, Colonel Brandon.”
Colonel Brandon stepped inside, noticing that the house was darker than he’d expected. “The party?”
“It ended about an hour ago, I’m afraid everyone else has went to their beds.”
Colonel Brandon took a step back and straightened. “I apologize Miss Marianne, I know that Mrs. Jennings’ parties can last all night if she’s given the opportunity. I wouldn’t have come if I’d known. I should leave.”
“Please, don’t, Colonel, rest for a moment from your ride, at least?”
The Colonel looked unsure, glancing around at the quiet house. “I shouldn’t. Will you be at Barton Cottage tomorrow?”
“Yes, I imagine we’ll leave here early in the morning to return.”
“May I stop by at midday then?”
“Please do, I-- I’ve missed our walks.”
Colonel Brandon’s face softened. “I have too.” He turned to leave, the door still open into the night air, but paused and turned back. He reached his hand inside of his long coat and took out a small, simply wrapped package. “This is for you. A gift for your birthday.”
Marianne smiled as she accepted it. “Thank you, Colonel. Though, you didn’t have to you know.”
He smiled again, but Marianne could tell that something was worrying him more than the late hour. “I wanted to. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He nodded once more before turning and leaving the house.
Marianne waited until he’d ridden out of sight before closing the door, and looking at the package in her hand. She untied the piece of string that held the paper, removing it as she moved to a nearby chair. Inside, was a framed poem, with a watercolor painted behind. She traced the wooden frame with her fingers, as she whispered the words. “Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.”