Marianne waited nervously, Beth's carriage had just arrived and Brandon stepped forward to greet her.
Beth stepped out and embraced him, "Colonel," she said happily.
She was a beautiful young girl, tall for her age and seemingly far more developed. Dark auburn curls hung around her face, complimented greatly by startling blue eyes. It was almost easy to understand how Willoughby had desired her, she looked almost twenty, not close to the tender age of fifteen.
Marianne observed she called him Colonel and not Papa or Uncle. It seemed that the distance had kept their relationship a certain way.
Brandon led Beth over to Marianne who smiled politely. "Beth, this is my wife, Marianne"
"It is a pleasure to meet you at last," said Marianne. "Brandon does not go a day without speaking of you"
Beth simply curtsied to mark politeness, then immediately turning to Brandon. "Am I staying in my old room?"
Brandon did not excuse her coldness, "Beth, this is my wife, Marianne"
She looked back at Marianne who repeated her sentiment. "Brandon speaks of you highly, I have heard so much about you"
"Yes, you said" replied Beth, walking past her towards the door.
"Elizabeth" called Brandon sharply, watching her stop and face him. "Greet Marianne properly"
With a sigh, Beth bowed her head, "Madam" and continued into the house.
Brandon moved to catch her, but Marianne stopped him. "Leave her, it's clear she does not like me"
"Like or not, I will not have cheek" he replied, exhaling deeply. "You are the lady of this house, not her"
"She is playing a game" observed Marianne. "We shall wait and see how long she chooses to keep it up"
As the pair walked inside, Beth was already arguing with Mrs Andrews. Brandon immediately put a stop to the noise, "What's this?"
"You've put her in my room?" cried Beth, pointing accusingly at Marianne. "Her?"
Marianne did her best not to look insulted, the way Beth looked at her as if she had stolen a priceless item. "The room was given to me by my husband, I have not knowingly taken anything"
"I was not talking to you" snapped Beth.
"That is quite enough" hushed Brandon. "Young lady you do not live here, you have no right to claim rooms. You have been placed in that room before so I can keep my eyes on you, nothing more"
Beth raised an eyebrow, "Is that so?"
"Yes" he replied, "Now before this goes any further you will address my wife properly"
"I am far more grown than she is, she does not deserve my respect, not after what she's done" remarked Beth.
"That is quite enough," said Brandon. "You will behave, understood?"
"Do not treat me like a child," she replied.
"Then do not insist upon acting like one," he replied. "Act like the grown woman you so much want to be, accept the room you have been given"
Beth relented, "Does the room have a cradle? My son is being brought by Mrs Jennings later"
"Marianne has gone to great lengths to ensure all is prepared for you and your son," said Brandon. "You owe her your thanks"
Marianne met her eyes as she muttered, "Thank you"
Beth quickly disappeared into the house, leaving Brandon to once again repeat his apologies to his wife.
Marianne felt as if she was a visitor in her home, she entered each room with caution and kept a distance from Beth's room.
As lunch approached she ventured to the room, knocking once and entering, finding Beth staring out of the window.
"Beth my dear, lunch will be served at-"
"12.30, yes I know" Beth cut in. "It's always been that way"
Marianne took a silent deep breath, "You know, you do not need to treat me this way"
Beth let out a shrill laugh, "I am treating you as you deserve to be treated"
"No" replied Marianne. "I have nothing but affection for you, nothing but a wish for your happiness"
"Such a little saint aren't we?" mocked Beth, turning to face her. "The dear Colonel's sweet wife"
"Do not mock me" urged Marianne. "And do not mock the love that I have for my husband, nor his for me"
Beth simply rolled her eyes and continued to stare out the window
Marianne noticed a small envelope on the bed amongst the girl's belongings and reached out for it. She noticed the hand almost immediately.
Beth flew forward and snatched the letter away. "Do not touch my things"
"When was this written" demanded Marianne. "Who gave you permission to write to him?"
"I do not need permission to write to the man who shall be my husband" replied Beth. "Besides this letter is from months ago"
Marianne scoffed. "Beth please"
"He shall marry me" she proclaimed, "it was the last thing he told me"
"Yes, you and I and countless other girls" replied Marianne. "He's a libertine, he does not care for you"
"Liar" cried, Beth. "You stole him from me"
"He made no mention of you when I met him," said Marianne. "He made me believe that he loved me, just to leave me for another woman. Just the same as yourself"
"No," said Beth. "He loves me"
"I'm sure he loved you for a moment" replied Marianne. "But he has made no mention of wanting to see you or your child as long as he breathes"
"How do you know that?" asked Beth.
Marianne realised her fault. "The-the rumour was everywhere, most people know he fathered a child"
"But he did not reply to my letter, how do you know he won't see me?"
"I know Willoughby as well as you" lied Marianne. "We know what his character is, even without him writing a letter"
Beth was unconvinced. "You know something don't you?" her tone angry and pointed.
Marianne stood her ground. "You do not need to question me Beth, for I have nothing to tell"
"You all treat me like a child!" exploded Beth. "I am a mother and I should be a wife, why do you treat me like I'm nothing but a baby"
"Because of this" cried Marianne. "Your constant shouting and bullying. Act like a woman and the Colonel and I shall treat you like one"
"How did you manage to seduce him?" questioned Beth, a cruel gleam in her eyes. "He's never loved anyone but my mother"
"Time can change and heal hearts" replied Marianne. "I love the Colonel and he loves me. There was no great seduction"
"That is hard to believe," said Beth. "He never so much looks at women, why you?"
"You may ask the Colonel that himself, I know that he loves me, you must ask him why" replied Marianne.
Still fixated on the mention of a letter, Beth asked. "I believe there is a letter. And I shall find it"
"You would have sooner hope writing to him yourself" replied Marianne. "Can you not just accept what I have a told you"
"No" replied Beth. "Because I know you to be a liar"
It took a great amount of strength for Marianne not to roll her eyes. Turning to leave she called. "Lunch is served soon, please do not be late"
"I'll find that letter" called Beth angrily. "You wait!"
Marianne kept her eye on Beth at lunch, keeping news of their altercation from Brandon.
She sat and spoke politely, but there was an undertone of a plan.
"You seem relaxed," remarked Brandon, glad to see her mood improved.
"Your wife spoke with me, I'm trying to lead by example" replied Beth.
"You did?" asked Brandon, looking to Marianne.
"Yes," said Marianne. "I hope you know I only want the best for you"
"Of course" smiled Beth. "And I'm grateful"
The rest of lunch continued in the same unknown happiness, it was fragile and seemed waiting to shatter with a word.
Mrs Jennings arrived as it was concluding, bringing with her baby John and Beth's belongings.
Marianne did not know how she would react upon seeing Willoughby's child. For a time that was the only thing, she dreamed of, being the mother of his child and the love of his heart. But she had since learned that those dreams were hollow and now belonged to another.
The small bundle was carried into the drawing-room by a wet nurse, followed by Mrs Jennings.
"My dear Marianne" she cried. "How I have longed to see you well again"
"I am quite recovered Ma'am" assured Marianne. "The tonics you sent eased me greatly"
Beth seemed to perk up, not at the sight of her child, but eagerly asked Brandon. "Is she sick?"
"No" he replied. "Since recovered"
"Yes from what?"
"Business that concerns others" he replied, receiving a grateful smile from his wife.
Beth huffed and sat back in her chair, taking her son almost by insistence. "He's been crying for your arms Miss," the nurse said.
"You can hold him" urged Beth. "I do not wish to"
"Why are you arguing with me?" demanded Beth. "I said you hold him"
Baby John mewled as he was lifted from her arms and Marianne felt a pang. She would have given anything to feed and care for her own child. To see Beth so dismissive and uncaring towards her son was almost aggravating.
"Now, at least let me see him," said Brandon. "I'll hold him for a while"
"He won't quieten until he's eaten" sighed Beth. "You'll only get a wriggly unhappy baby"
"Never-mind that" replied Brandon, "nurse I'll take him"
The nurse handed Baby John to him and the boy still cried for his mother. Brandon tried to soothe him but the little one kept crying.
"Might I?" asked Marianne, hovering beside Brandon.
Almost as soon as baby John was in her arms he quietened, snuffled and looked up at her face.
Beth almost scowled. "He thinks you are me"
"No, he doesn't" replied Marianne. "He's just happy now"
"And he wasn't with me?" cried Beth. "I want him back, nurse don't let her touch him anymore"
"Now that's a little rash" hushed Mrs Jennings. "You didn't want him, let Miss Marianne hold him a while"
Beth rolled her eyes, "It's only because she wants the child for herself"
Marianne tried her best not to snap back at her, Brandon brought her arm around her. "Marianne loves children Beth, you should be grateful that she desires to be attentive"
"Apparently" sighed Beth.
"I'm sure you love him very much, but for one so young it must undoubtedly be some pressure" replied Marianne, gently rocking the little one in her arms.
"And you'd understand that?" retorted Beth.
"Yes" replied Marianne. "My younger sister is six years my junior. I remember her birth and helped to care for her. There were days I hated her, all the crying and endless attention she required. But I soon came to love her and found ways I could help my mother"
For the first time, Beth paid attention. "You are saying you don't mind holding him for me?"
"Not if you wish to rest, or if you require help" smiled Marianne.
For the first time, she looked down at the young baby's face. There was no doubt who was the father was, little John was already the very image of his father.
Beth seemed to observe her in a similar mind. "So much like his father isn't he?"
Brandon denied it. "No my dear, I see you far more in that sweet face than him"
But Marianne agreed. "No, Beth is correct. Willoughby is in this face"
"Well" added Mrs Jennings. "Let us hope he can learn from the mistakes of his father. You can set a good example for him, Colonel"
"I'll see to that" he replied.
"I do not know how he is to be different to his father if he is never allowed to meet him" muttered Beth.
"He will hear the stories of his father and learn that way" replied Brandon. "Besides he is a Brandon now, just as you are"
"So you keep saying" sighed Beth, rising from her chair. "Is the instrument still in the library?"
Brandon nodded. "Yes"
"I'll play a while" she proclaimed, standing beside him. "If that is alright?"
Marianne was distracted with baby John, but as Beth talked to Brandon she watched her little hand snake into one of his pockets and steal the key to his desk. As if to taint her behaviour more, she leant up and kissed his cheek, concealing the key in her hand.
Marianne said nothing, she wanted to follow her. Letting Beth have a moment to gain a head start, she quickly handed baby John to the nurse. "I'll just go and show Beth where I have moved the music. She probably will just get lost"
Brandon nodded and went about conversing with Mrs Jennings.
Moving very slowly, avoiding treading heavily, Marianne crept into the library and caught Beth rummaging through Brandon's private letters.
Marianne flew forward and grabbed her by the wrist. "Wicked girl!" she exclaimed. "How dare you!"
Beth was greatly surprised by this intervention, immediately going on the defensive. "I have every right to search for Willoughby's letters, get your hands off me"
"I will not allow stealing in my home!"
"I stole nothing!" exploded Beth. "Let go of me!"
Marianne tried to snatch the key from the table but Beth was quicker, this action then resulted in a tug of war.
The resulting noise caused Brandon to quickly enter the room, quite horrified to see Marianna fighting with Beth so passionately. "Stop this at once!" he barked.
"She attacked me" cried, Beth. "Please make her stop"
Marianne was close to losing her composure completely. "You are going to lie to him?"
"Beth?" asked Brandon.
Seeing that she was silent, Marianne finally managed to yank the key from her hands. "She stole this from you, moments ago"
Brandon looked at the key closely, seeing that letters and his desk had been tampered with. "Beth is this true?"
The young girl rolled her eyes and would not reply.
"Elizabeth I asked you a question" he urged, with a sharpness to his voice.
"She's framing me!" cried Beth suddenly. "She hates me!"
"Do not speak such nonsense, Marianne cares for you a great deal"
"She hates me, she is trying to turn you against me!" cried Beth.
"Why would I do that?" demanded Marianne. "You are the one who has shown me anger and hatred for a reason you created in your mind"
"You know something I don't," said Beth. "I simply want to know what you lied to me about. Willoughby did write to me about his son and you both kept it from me!"
Marianne looked to Brandon. "Christopher I have told her nothing"
He believed her but knew that Beth would never rest until she knew the truth. "Even if the truth will hurt you? You still wish to know?"
Beth nodded and stepped away from the desk. "I want to see the letter"
With some reluctance Brandon retrieved the letter and handed to Beth, almost watching as her face crumbled. "I'm sorry my dearest"
"No" whispered Beth, shaking the letter as if the letters would somehow reposition themselves. "He did not send this"
"You know his hand" replied Brandon. "Better than anyone"
Beth's icy glare fixed itself on Marianne. "Everyone accept for her"
Marianne could not hide her insult. "You are making a fool of yourself, this is nonsense"
"But you could have written it" cried, Beth. "Why won't you admit it?"
"And why won't you admit the truth that is before your eyes!" exclaimed Marianne. "Christopher please, tell her"
Brandon came to her defence, "Beth this letter came in April, too close to your confinement, I was so sure hearing those cruel and untruthful words would send you into childbirth. Marianne was not aware of any of this, she only became aware once his crimes were brought to light in May. Time is what tells the truth in this matter"
"I do not believe it" whispered Beth.
"Have I ever lied to you?" asked Brandon. "Truly?"
Beth gave no reply.
Marianne watched him take a slow deep breath, turn and leave them alone. The girl's lack of response had finally broken him.
Beth stood and watched him leave, clearly never witnessing that side of him before.
Marianne took her by the hands and forced her face to look at her own. "You do not know how lucky you are Beth. What he has done for you is above and beyond what most fathers would do for their own children, and yet you treat him as if all he has done is send his compliments to you once a year."
"This world and the men in it are cruel to our sex, you and I are a testament to that. This world is not meant for us to flourish and all he has done is give you the opportunity to try. If he had not taken you in, you'd be in the gutter or worse, do you understand?"
Beth pulled back her hands. "I remember my life before the Colonel. I was seven when my mother died. I remember the smell of gin and the taste of smoke. I remember the sounds of the men she'd bring into our home, their laughter and their violence."
Marianne watched her fly across the room. "I can't forget it" she cried. "I watched my mother die before my eyes, choking on blood and water, her eyes glazed over with fog. And I remember how afraid I was of the man by her side. But he treated her differently to all the men I'd ever seen. I remember he took me in his arms from that place and I fell asleep in them and awoke in the bedroom upstairs. He was there right beside me, stroking my hair, his eyes soft and pleading, he did not even have to speak to me. I have never felt so safe than at that moment. Every time I am here I stay in that room, sleep in that bed because each time I awaken in that bed I feel safe, that the world outside cannot touch me"
"He won't even speak to me about her," said Beth. "Each time I try I am silenced, it's as if she never existed"
She took a deep breath, "I know how lucky I am Madam, I really do. As much as he tries, I know what I am and what a burden I am to him."
"You are not a burden Beth" urged Marianne. "He adores you"
"He loves me because I look like my mother," said Beth. "But whoever my father was, has given me his spirit and a tongue I cannot control"
"He loves you" replied Marianne, taking another firm grip of the girl's hands. "He would not like me to say it but I think he loves you too much for his own good. I dare say he loves you more than me"
"Then I am a burden to him," said Beth
"If you are, then it as a burden of love he bears most willingly" replied Marianne. "And I wish to help him as much as I can. Which means this feud between us must end"
"You-you did not take Willoughby from me did you?" Beth whispered.
Marianne shook her head, "If I did so, it was unknowingly done. I thought he loved me and he certainly acted very well if he did not"
"I don't think he loved me either" muttered Beth before her face crumpled. "But I still love him"
As her sobs grew Marianne pulled her into her arms, letting her weep against her shoulder.
"I gave him everything and he promised me that he'd do the same" she cried bitterly. "I knew it was wrong but he made it sound so agreeable and sacred. I was foolish to think he loved me"
"John Willoughby is scoundrel by nature. He has learnt to rely on charm and his looks that he forgets he has a soul" urged Marianne. "He may not receive the punishment he deserves in this life but he will be held accountable for his crimes in the next"
"You must think it strange to name my son after him" sniffed Beth.
"The name is a fine one, and your son shall be everything that his father is not. You can be sure of it" assured Marianne.
Beth lifted her head and wiped the tears that hung to her face. "Do you believe that?"
"I do" nodded Marianne. "He can learn of his father when he is old enough and until then we can raise him to be noble and wise, and you must be an example to him. You must love him and nurture him"
"It is not easy" replied Beth. "babies are difficult and I do not know what he wants when he cries"
"That is why you have a nurse and why Mrs Jennings and her daughter will help you if you let them," said Marianne.
Beth nodded and for the first time smiled at her.
"So can we be friends?" asked Marianne. "Please?"
"I think I can manage that" she replied.