At the age of eighteen, James Brandon's world is shattered when the girl he loves, Eliza, is forced to marry his brother. In despair, he joins the army and leaves England for the East Indies for the next several years. Upon his return, he finds Eliza in a debtor's prison. He rescues her from her terrible situation, but she is dying of consumption and he can do nothing but watch and wait. Heartbroken at her death, he takes some consolation in her illegitimate daughter, who he raises as his ward. But at the age of fifteen, his ward goes missing. Devastated by the thought of what could have happened to her, he is surprised to find himself falling in love with Marianne Dashwood. But Marianne is falling in love with the charismatic Willoughby...
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Colonel Brandon's Diary
By Amanda Grange
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2008 Amanda Grange
All rights reserved.
Tuesday 16 June
I thought the holidays would never arrive, but I am on my way home at last.
'Remember, you are to visit us in August!' said Leyton to me as he boarded the stage.
'I will not forget,' I promised him.
His coach pulled out of the yard and I went into the inn where I ate a second breakfast before it was time for my own coach to leave, and then I was soon on my way to Delaford. As the buildings of Oxford gave way to open countryside I fell into desultory conversation with my fellow passengers, but it was too hot to talk for long and we were soon silent, watching the fields and rivers and hamlets pass by.
The light began to dwindle. Night fell, and the coach stopped at a respectable inn. I partook of the ordinary and now here I sit, in my chamber, looking forward to the summer.
Wednesday 17 June
I dozed through the first part of the journey but as I neared home I took more interest in my surroundings. My eyes travelled over the fields adjoining the estate and then I saw a welcome sight. It was Eliza, walking by the river with her straw hat dangling by its ribbons and her brocade skirt held up in her hand.
The coach slowed to turn a corner. I opened the door and, much to the consternation of my fellow passengers, I threw out my pack and then jumped after it, slithering down the grassy verge before reclaiming it at the bottom and calling to her. She turned round and, eyes alight, ran towards me. I caught her up and spun her round, thinking, I cannot remember a time when I did not love Eliza.
'Did you miss me?' I asked her, as at last I put her down, though I kept my arms around her, for I could not bear to let her go.
'And what am I to say to that?' she said with a smile. 'Am I to tell a lie, or am I to tell the truth and make you conceited?'
I laughed, and she slipped her arm round my waist, then we began to follow the river towards the house.
'How was Oxford?' she asked me.
'Much as ever. The lectures were dull and the fellows, save for a few, either dissolute or boring. But never mind, in a few more years I will have qualified for the law, and then we will buy a house somewhere, a snug little cottage —'
'Though you do not need a profession, because we will have my fortune to live on.'
'I will not touch a penny of your fortune,' I said seriously.
'Why not? It will make us comfortable, and more than comfortable. When I come into it, it will make us rich.'
'I want to support you.'
'Then what are we to do with it? It seems a pity to waste it, when it is there for the taking.'
'Save it for our children,' I said.
'Our children? Pray, do you not know it is indelicate to speak of such a thing to an unmarried woman?' she asked me saucily.
'Our children,' I said, unrepentant. 'Once we are married —'
'If we are married. You have not asked me yet.'
I dropped my pack and fell to one knee, taking her hand.
'Eliza, will you marry me?'
'When you have nothing to offer me, indeed when you are far too young to think of marriage, being a mere stripling of eighteen?' she teased.
'A stripling, am I?' I asked, rising to my feet.
'A stripling!' she said tauntingly, then she turned and ran. I gave chase and, easily catching her, I lifted her up and put her over my shoulder. She beat on my back with her fists, laughing all the while.
'Put me down!'
'Not until you say you are sorry!'
'For what? For speaking the truth?' she asked.
'For calling me a stripling.'
'Very well, I apologize.'
'That is better.'
I put her down again.
'It was very wrong of me. You are not a stripling, I see that now, you are a sapling,' she said.
'But a sapling you will marry?'
'If you do not know the answer to that already, my dearest James,' she said tenderly, 'you never will.'
She lifted her hand to my face and I kissed it, saying, 'Then as soon as we are of age we will be wed.'
'You will have to ask your father for his permission first,' she said, reluctantly pulling away from me. 'He is my guardian, and he must have his say. Only do not do it yet. I want to have some time to ourselves, with no one knowing; no fuss made; no calls to make and return; just the two of us, secure in our love.'
'Whatever you want, it is yours. You know I have never been able to deny you anything.'
We walked on for some time without speaking, rejoicing in the day, with nothing but the sound of the river and the song of the birds to break the silence. We came to the gate in the wall and entered the grounds, going in through the orchard, where the trees were beginning to swell with fruit. The house lay before us, and as I saw its solid façade I realized how much I loved it. I thought of all the happy years Eliza and I had spent there, and all the happy years to come.
We began to talk again, and I asked her what she had been doing whilst I had been at Oxford.
'What every other young lady does,' she replied. 'I have been practising my music and improving with my watercolours. I painted a very pretty view of the bridge last week, though the proportions were wrong and the colours false; however it was very pretty. And I started a portrait of Miss Jenkins.'
'And how is the estimable Miss Jenkins?'
'She is very well, though a little deaf.'
'And how did you manage to evade her this afternoon?'
'I told her I needed some exercise and, as she was sleepy after a heavy lunch, she was content for me to go out alone, as long as I did not stray beyond the grounds.'
'And what else have you been doing?'
'I have been netting a purse and singing and dancing —'
'Ah, yes, so you told me. I believe you said you had a new dancing master. I am very glad of it, for the last time I was at home I noticed that Monsieur Dupont was ruining your feet. I believe he stepped on your toes more often than not. This new man is very ugly, I believe you said, with a face like a gargoyle. Poor fellow.'
'Not a bit of it, he is very handsome; I will go further, and say that he is very handsome indeed. He has dark hair, clear eyes and good teeth. His chin is pronounced and his forehead is noble. Moreover, he has a finely turned calf, broad shoulders and overall the air of a gentleman. His address is good, and his manners pleasing. We are very lucky he condescends to be my master.'
We left the orchard behind us and entered the pleasure gardens, where the roses were in bloom. They filled the air with their perfume, and their dancing heads bobbed on their stalks as the breeze blew them this way and that.
'He does very well for an elderly man, then, for I believe you said he was in his dotage,' I remarked.
'On the contrary, he is very young, not a day over five-and-twenty,' she returned.
'Nonsense! Dancing masters are never five-and-twenty. They are always at least sixty. They would not be allowed in the house otherwise, especially if they were handsome, young ladies being prone to unsuitable fancies.'
'I do believe you are jealous!' she said, turning to me with a mischievous gleam in her eye.
'Of Mr Allison?' I snorted. 'I hardly think so.'
'There you are, you see, you even remember his name, a sure sign of jealousy!'
'It is nothing of the kind. It is just because you mentioned it so often in your letters.'
'I mentioned it once!' she contradicted me.
'And once was all I needed, for I have an excellent memory.'
'Your memory is abominable,' she returned.
'Nonsense. I never forget anything.'
'Then what colour is my new ball gown, which I mentioned to you in my letters?'
'It is ... that is to say ... I believe, yes I am sure ...'
'Well?' she asked.
'I do not immediately recall.'
'No? Not even with your good memory?' she asked satirically.
'Ah, I have it! It is blue,' I said, hazarding a guess.
'And what material is it?'
'Broc ...' I saw that she was about to say No and changed my mind. 'Probably ... that is to say, it was satin. Yes, I remember now. You distinctly said it was made out of satin.'
'Fie upon you, James. I told you at least three times, it is made of silk.'
I was undaunted.
'Whatever it is made of, I am sure you will look enchanting in it,' I said.
'Well recovered, sir! You should be a courtier, not a lawyer. It is a great skill to be able to turn a pretty compliment, especially when you have just been bested! You should see if they have any openings at St James's!'
We had almost reached the lawns and she stopped, letting her skirt drop from her hand and settling her straw hat on her head.
'Here, let me help you,' I said, tying her ribbons for her.
'I had better go in through the French windows,' said Eliza, when I had done. 'I am meant to be practising the pianoforte. I promised your father I would heed my music master's instruction and practise for two hours every day, but I could not settle to my music this afternoon, knowing that you would be home.'
'So you came to the field on purpose to catch an early sight of me,' I said with a feeling of satisfaction.
She raised her eyebrows and said lightly, 'How vain men are! I merely thought some exercise would do me good and so I walked through the fields accordingly. The fact that you happened to arrive at that moment was the merest coincidence.'
And with that she left me.
I watched her walk away from me, admiring the line of her back, and I kept watching her until she was out of sight, and then I slung my pack over my shoulder and carried on my way.
I walked round the house and, as I passed the stables, I saw my brother Harry coming out of them. He was looking dissolute, with his cravat pulled awry, and he was adjusting his breeches. My mood darkened.
'Some things never change,' I said, as I drew level with him. 'Who was it this time? The milkmaid, the scullery-maid, or one of the farmers' daughters?'
'Molly Dean, as it happens, one of the most beautiful girls hereabouts. You should take the trouble of getting to know her yourself. She'd soon put a spring in your step. A girl like Molly's just what you need on a morning like this one. A roll in the hay with her would wipe that sanctimonious look off your face. It would make a man of you.'
'I do not think I like your idea of being a man.'
'No? University has taught you nothing, then. A pity. I was hoping you would learn to hold your liquor and develop a taste for women, so that we could carouse together, as brothers should, but it seems that you have returned as dull as you went.'
We went into the house together, but we could not think of anything further to say to each other. We parted in the hall, he to go upstairs and I to go in to my father.
I found him in his study, looking through a pile of papers.
'So, you are back,' he said, glancing up once then continuing with his work.
'Yes, indeed, Father, as you see.'
'And what have you been doing since you went away?'
'I have been studying, sir.'
'Studying?' He threw his quill down on the desk, then looked up at me in astonishment; whether feigned or real I could not tell. 'Studying! You take my breath away. I had no idea you would do such a thing. It seems I have raised a scholar! Dear me.'
'Hardly that,' I said uncomfortably, for somehow he always manages to disconcert me.
'No, sir, I have simply been trying to repay your kindness in sending me to Oxford by working hard for my degree.'
'A degree?' he asked, as though it were some kind of rare and exotic animal. 'So that is what you hope to gain, is it? It seems an unusual desire for a young man of your background. Pray, tell me, what do you intend to do with it when you have it? Do you mean to set yourself up as a clerk, perhaps? Or maybe you have higher aspirations?'
'I have indeed, sir,' I said, trying hard not to squirm.
'I am glad to hear it. And to what do you aspire? To become a schoolmaster, perhaps, or do you hope to reach the exalted ranks of a tutor?' he asked satirically.
'No, indeed ...'
'No? Surely you do not have an even higher calling in mind, for what could be a higher calling than looking after another man's brats; brats who will treat you with insolence, at best, and more probably openly revile you?'
'I hope to go into the law.'
'Ah. The law,' he said, leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers. 'The law,' he repeated, savouring the words as though they were a glass of wine; though what his pronouncement would be on the vintage I could not guess. 'I congratulate you,' he went on, with a smile that lacked any humour. 'If you work hard, then at the end of ten years you might have enough money to buy yourself a horse.'
'The law has greater rewards than that —' I said, stung to reply.
'But not for an honest man,' he interrupted me, 'and you have always struck me as honest, James. Unless you mean to surprise me?'
'I should not have sent you to university this year, it was too soon, but I allowed myself to be swayed by your tutors, who assured me that you had learnt everything they could teach you, and that you were intelligent and likely to thrive. But you were not mature enough. And now you have set your feet on the wrong path and you stand in need of some advice. Abandon all these notions of hard work and degrees and do what I intended you to do when I sent you to Oxford in the first place. Make some friends —'
'I have friends, sir.'
He raised his eyebrows.
'Really? You pick a strange time to mention them. Nevertheless, I am very pleased to hear it. Friends are the basis of life. They can be very useful if treated properly, so tell me about these friends of yours, James, and tell me of what use they can be to you?'
As so often, when talking to my father, I felt as though we were speaking different languages, which shared the same words but not the same meanings.
'I do not understand you, sir.'
He sat forward in his chair and rested his elbows on his desk.
'Dear me. I must have been very remiss in my duties towards you if you do not know what I mean by useful. What connections do they have? What help can they give you? And how many sisters do they have?'
'I never took any account of those things ...'
'You astonish me. How is that a young man such as yourself, not deficient in intelligence, an avid student – so he tells me – with no defects of person or manners, can fail to take account of such things? Tell me, how do you mean to live once you are out in the world?'
'By going into the law, sir, as I have already told you.'
'And as I have already told you, a man cannot live on what the law provides. Therefore my advice to you, James, is to return to Oxford in a better frame of mind than the one in which you left. Think of your friends in the light of the help their families can provide. They might have livings in their disposal, or better yet, they might have impressionable daughters with generous dowries who would welcome the attentions of a handsome young man such as yourself. Cultivate those who can be useful to you and disregard the rest.'
'I do not think —'
'No, my boy, I'm well aware of that!' he said with a dry laugh.
'What I mean is, I prefer my friendships to be with my friends.'
'Ah. I have not just raised a scholar, I have raised an idealist, it seems. Well, my boy, I wish you well of it,' he said, taking up his quill. 'I hope you will be very happy. You will invite me to your lodgings one day ten years hence, I hope, so that I might see the splendours you have won with your labours.'
He said no more, but turned his attention to his books, and after waiting a minute or two to see if he would speak again, I left the room.
I wriggled my shoulders, as if to shake off something unpleasant, a habit acquired through long years of conversations with my father, and then I found myself wondering what he would have said if I had told him of my plan to marry Eliza. Would he have congratulated me on becoming affianced to an heiress? No, probably not. He would have berated me for not finding another one. Nothing would please him more than to marry Eliza to an earl and gain a string of great relations, and I believe he would have laughed at me if I had told him of my intentions.
I returned to my room and found that my trunk had already arrived. Dawkins had unpacked it and my evening clothes were laid out on my bed.
I had time to write a few letters before changing for dinner and then I went downstairs. Eliza was in the drawing room, her hair bound up with a ribbon that matched the blue of her eyes. Harry was already drunk. As we walked into the dining room his gait was unsteady. My father merely smiled, as though Harry afforded him great amusement, and I guessed that this was not an unusual state of affairs.
'I will be giving a ball in three weeks' time,' said my father to me as we began our meal. 'It is a long time since we have had such a gathering at Delaford and it is time we entertained our neighbours. They need an opportunity to criticize our house, find fault with our arrangements, disparage the efficacy of our servants and revile our taste. Your studies will allow you time to attend, I hope?'
'Yes, Father. As you know, I am on holiday now.'
'Very true. But an industrious young man such as yourself might wish to work on high days and holidays. Indeed, if you are to advise the neighbouring farmers on their contracts you must work hard now to make sure that you do not lead them astray in the future.'
Eliza glanced at me and we both hid our laughter behind our napkins, whilst Harry laughed outright.
'What! You mean to become a lawyer!' he said, reaching for the bottle and pouring himself another drink. 'My brother, the attorney!'
Excerpted from Colonel Brandon's Diary by Amanda Grange. Copyright © 2008 Amanda Grange. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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