Read Part One
The welcome that Edward received when he returned to Barton Cottage was as warm and embracing as his own family’s reception had been cold and distant. In Mrs. Dashwood he discovered the motherly care that Mrs. Ferrars had never provided, in Marianne and Margaret he felt the all the sisterly affection that was lacking between himself and Fanny, and in Elinor, who had always been so guarded in her expressing her feelings, he experienced all the loving support that had been absent for so long from his life. At Barton he could be himself without fear of censure, free from all the discomfort that society and its pretensions had imposed upon him. His liberation was indubitable, and in its embrace he flourished.
“Where would I be without you, my dear Elinor?” he mused one morning as they walked along the downs, enjoying the fresh summer air.
She smiled amusedly, “Certainly not at Barton, one would imagine, though you seemed to already have had an affinity for Devonshire.”
“It is cruel of you to tease me on that point,” he responded, though the charge was belied by the grin that graced his countenance. “I mean what kind of man would I be in the process of becoming? What sort of clergyman could I be with the burdens of an unhappy home life sapping my energy? I’m sure I would have commenced well, but as time took it’s toll and despondency set in, I would surely have deteriorated into a sad figure. With you I will have every motivation to make my flock as happy and prosperous as possible, as I will know just such felicities at home.”
“You assume a great deal, Edward. Who is to say that, upon marriage, I will not prove a harpy, the very bane of your existence? One never quite knows how such things will unfold in a marriage. I always thought Lucy was at least well prepared for the challenges of running a rectory. She would have been a far better economizer than I fear I shall prove.”
“Must we speak of her?” Edward sighed wearily.
“Unfortunately, I think courtesy demands it. When we consider how much she, in all likelihood, is discussing us, it is only right that we return the consideration.” They shared an amused glance. “In all seriousness, Edward, no one is more pleased with the outcome of our predicament than I, but had Lucy not been so accommodating as to elope with your brother, and your marriage had proceeded as planned, you would have a great deal of choice in your course of action. You might have, as described, succumbed to hopelessness, or you could have made the best of your situation and found joy and contentment in the fulfillment of your duties. Neglect would have only worsened your lot.”
“Precisely. You always know just how one should behave, and at my side will force me into being a far better man than I ever could manage to become without you.”
“What you now perceive as worthy advice, you may someday regard as a plague. I have heard many a married man dismiss his wife’s urgings as an annoyance or, even worse, a torment.”
“That will not be us,” he said with conviction.
“We will surely find out,” she laughed. “That is our luxury.”
Elinor and Edward did not spend all their time basking in the joys of newly declared love. Colonel Brandon called regularly to discuss the actions he was enthusiastically taking towards the improvement of Delaford Parsonage, which also proved the perfect excuse to loiter with Marianne over her books. Even if Mrs. Dashwood hadn’t been so forthcoming about her hopes for this pairing, it would not taken Edward long to perceive that in Colonel Brandon he might someday have that brother who, unlike Robert, would be a reliable companion and friend. Readily he joined in the conspiracy to see this worthy gentleman’s aspirations realized, often abandoning their discussion upon the most contrived excuses when Marianne entered the room, leaving one of the ladies to play unobtrusive chaperon, her attention far more consumed by her work than her duties.
And now, dear reader, I ask your pardon as I step back from the world of the 19th century to assume the voice of a 21st century observer. You see, all that stood in the way of a quick marriage between Elinor and Edward were the improvements with which Colonel Brandon had so interested himself, and it is on this note that our modern experiences provide a great deal of insight. I ask all of you who have ever employed a contractor for any work on your own home, be it the mere replacement of a deteriorating window pane or a full kitchen remodel, to empathize with the interminable nature of the wait to which our hero and heroine were now subjected. Not even the most reliable contractor can be realistically expected to finish a project within the projected time frame, and though Colonel Brandon had his own workers - ready, able, and cheap - hard at work on the parsonage, unforeseeable complications were just as inevitable two hundred years ago as they are today. And so it is understandable how, after three months of setbacks, a thousand disappointments and delays from the unaccountable dilatoriness of the workmen, Elinor declared herself unwilling to wait any longer and the wedding was held forthwith, Colonel Brandon, ever accommodating, offered the newlyweds shelter in his house as they oversaw the remaining work on the nearby parsonage. It may not be the most romantic wedding trip, but Elinor and Edward, pragmatic and complacent, were appropriately grateful for their benefactor’s hospitality. The Colonel did entertained some hope that Marianne would act as companion to her sister, an idea enthusiastically suggested by Mrs. Dashwood, but in spite of her own wish to bring the two together, Elinor refused to further impose upon her host, to his great disappointment.
The Ferrars, upon receiving news of the joyous event, put aside their great incomprehension of their son and brother and began to make their travel plans. It was of great assistance in this effort that Sir John, long before a date was set, had already invited the entire family to stay at Park “ ... for as long as it suits you. There’s sure to be some game in season and many an outing and dancing in the evening for the ladies.” Lady Middleton, after the banns were set to be read, provided a more formal invitation. All Mrs. Ferrars and the Dashwoods need do was gather their entourage and invade Barton at their leisure.
The reading of the banns not only pushed Lady Middleton into action, but also brought news of his brother’s impending marriage to Roberts Ferrars and his new wife. It was Lucy who first heard of the approaching event, her newly hired maid proving quite the useful gossip, and she greeted the information with a mixture of glee and angst. Though she had long known the truth of Edward and Elinor’s attachment, is culmination inevitably caused her some chagrin. On the other hand, the notion of Elinor struggling along and economizing on a parson’s salary she found rather humorous, especially when compared to her own good fortune. Yet not even the acquisition of a thousand pounds a year could satiate Lucy’s ambitions, and she was quick to see in the approaching marriage an opportunity for her husband to reassert himself into his mother’s good graces and lucrative pockets.
Lucy, much to her husband’s benefit and despite all her faults, was undeniably shrewd. She knew that the reestablishment of her husband would be a difficult process, and that it was much more likely to happen if she kept herself in the background at first. Thus is was that, upon sharing her newly acquired information with Robert and enjoying, with him, a hearty laugh at our young couple’s expense, she set about trying to convince him of the benefits to be derived from his attendance at the wedding. He was understandably reluctant to present himself, not only because it meant confronting a hostile family, but also because he was certain that Edward’s wedding could be nothing but a dead bore. Nevertheless, with her careful flattery and calculated cajolery, Lucy at last convinced him how efficacious his presence at the blessed event would be. Let credit go where it is due: she managed to accomplish this while leading Robert to believe it was his good notion in the first place. Talent indeed, though his inflated sense of self-import was of great assistance in the achievement of the feat.
What Robert was inclined to condemn as a poor show, people of taste and sense would recognize in the marriage of Elinor and Edward all that was most important. Pomp might have been lacking, the bride bedecked in a useful gown that would serve many a purpose other than that of mere wedding finery, but the love shared by our couple was apparent. Marianne joyfully accompanied her sister, while Colonel Brandon stood beside his new rector, and, more importantly, increasingly dear friend. All their friends and well-wishers were in attendance, from Sir John and Lady Middleton to an elated Mrs. Jennings. Their respective families also made a strong showing amongst the observers. John and Fanny were in attendance along with Mrs. Ferrars, and while this party never dared speak to Robert when he appeared, not one of the three could help reflecting what a fine figure he cut as opposed to the groom, dressed in the humble elegance that befit his clerical pretensions. Thus the breech made its first steps towards amendment.