Mariane Brandon was bursting with news to tell her sister and was so excited at the report that her husband had divulged at breakfast before leaving for Lyme that morning, that she did not consider there to be time enough to don her bonnet. With her chestnut curls escaping from her coiffure to dance in the wind and her scarlet cloak billowing like a great sail behind her, she almost ran down the lane to the parsonage. Knowing that Elinor would probably scold her for not bringing the chaise, she nevertheless had not wanted to be bothered with the inconvenience of having to wait for it. Muddying her boots and the hem of her gown, she took the shortcut across the fields to the lane that separated the two sisters. Yesterday's storm had left the ground wet but there was the promise of a most delightful day, the autumnal sunshine kissing her cheeks with a blush. Marianne had not wanted to say goodbye to her husband but was resigned to his departure. There was nothing she could say or do to change the situation; she knew that from experience. Glad to be outside in the fresh air, she looked about with contented pleasure, waltzing through the familiar countryside that she was delighted to call her home. Delaford House in the county of Dorset was as dear to her as the former family seat at Norland had been. Marianne knew in her heart that she was a most fortunate young woman.
Elinor was delighted to see her as always, although she was a little surprised at her sister's slightly dishevelled appearance. "Goodness me, Marianne. Is ought amiss? You look rather harried. Where is little James? Is he well? Anna will be most upset not to see her cousin this morning."
"How is my darling Anna? I long to kiss her! And where is little Georgie? I must have a cuddle!" Marianne handed her cloak into the arms of a waiting maidservant before arranging herself with much elegance on the sofa in the comfortable sitting room. "I could not bring James with me, as he was not yet dressed, and in any case I just had to get out into the sunshine. Besides, he wants to look into every hedgerow and chase the falling leaves, and I couldn't wait to tell you my news. However, before I left I promised he would see his cousin soon. I have had an idea. Anna and James enjoy one another's company so much, as does our dear mama. What say you to a shopping trip in Exeter the day after tomorrow? It would be such fun. My nursemaid can take our babies in the carriage to Barton Cottage and after you and I have handed them over with our greetings we shall go out in the box barouche!"
Elinor looked at Marianne in disbelief. She wondered if she would ever grow up or if she would for once consider others before she set about on some scheme or other. Colonel William Brandon, Elinor thought, had done much to improve her sister's character. She was more settled in her habits, more tranquil than she had ever been, and was not quite so prone to as many flights of fancy or as many fits of sensibility as she had been in the past. But three years of married life had done little to really change her. Marianne still had an impetuous nature, she still retained a desire for impulse and enterprises undertaken on the spur of the moment. The Colonel, Elinor felt, indulged Marianne's whims far too frequently.
"Marianne, you know that would be impossible. I have far too much to do here at present and I do not think Mama will be as pleased as you think to have all her grandchildren at once. Besides, she may have other plans."
"But Margaret is there, kicking her heels with nothing to do. I am sure she would only be delighted to see her niece and nephews. And I would love to tell Mama and Margaret my news."
Elinor was firm. "I would love to go shopping on another day, but I really cannot go at the moment. Now, is that what you came to tell me in such a hurry?"
Marianne watched Elinor's maid set down a tray of lemonade and ratafia biscuits. She could hardly wait for Susan's starched white cap to disappear through the door before she made her announcement.
"Henry Lawrence is coming homeWilliam's nephew," she added, taking in Elinor's puzzled expression.
"Oh, yes," Elinor exclaimed, her face breaking into a smile.
"I remember hearing about him from Mrs Jennings. He has just completed his studies at Oxford, has he not?"
"Yes, and by all accounts he is not only very handsome but is also a very eligible young man, for he will inherit Whitwell. I have never met him, but I must admit, I am most curious to see him."
"Whitwell is a very handsome estate; William's sister made an excellent marriage."
"She did indeed, though her health has never been good.
That is why they stayed in Southern France and Italy for so long, I believe. Hannah tells me that the air and the climate are very well suited to invalids, and is always at pains to point out her abhorrence of the damp atmosphere to be found in the West Country. William worries about his sister so much, but all I can observe is that the Dorsetshire rain does not improve her disposition."
Marianne paused before looking directly into her sister's eyes. "I have a mind to say that there seems little that would divert a constitution so intent on being ill. I have never seen her without some ailment and I admit it is fortunate that we are not such close neighbours. I have never heard her discuss any subject other than that of herself, and then it is only to complain."
"Perhaps she suffers more than you know, Marianne."
"That we all suffer in her company is a certainty. You have not met with her above twice in your life and I believe you mistakenly felt that she was quite charming on both occasions. But then, you are not her intimate relation and I suspect you have been taken in."
"I daresay the entire neighbourhood will be throwing their girls in Mr Lawrence's path," said Elinor, changing the course of the conversation. "I expect Miss Strowbridge will have her eye on him before long."
"Miss Strowbridge, nonsense! He will be entirely suitable for Margaret, do you not think? You must admit there have been few young men to excite the romantic sensibilities of our dear sister to date. Charles Carey was never really suitable, and in any case he has gone to sea. I feel most excited at the prospect.