one, two, three, and four.
Marianne experienced a jolt of panic when she spotted the Colonel walking up the path to the cottage the nest day, but rather than making herself scarce, as she might once have done, she steeled herself for what she fervently prayed would not be too painful of an interview.
She had risen earlier than usual and strolled the downs at daybreak, trying to make sense out of the confusion of her thoughts. She had come to regard the Colonel in the light of a dear friend, with whom she need not feel the least reserve, and if she still retained some lingering suspicion that there was more than friendship on his part, she had not dwelt upon it. The rumors of the previous evening, speculating on a match between herself and the Colonel, forced her to confront what she had been happy to ignore.
Marianne Dashwood was not one to easily forgo her convictions. While Elinor might be able to lightly, and even rightly, dismiss her stance on second attachments as the romanticism of youth, it was no small feat for her sister to set aside a favorite maxim. Such a change in philosophy as would be required by Marianne to allow herself to love once more could not happen overnight, and while she would admit that she felt great affection for the Colonel, her sensations towards him were so starkly dissimilar from what she had experienced with Willoughby that she truly did not recognize in them a foundation for romance, depriving her of the needed motivation to reevaluate her stance.
As she walked, she pondered the nature of her affections, and while she knew it would be painful, she resolved that she must reject the Colonel if he ever were to propose. She wished most fervently he never would, so as to avoid the pain and discomfort such a scene would necessarily entail. As she pondered the circumstance, she realized how very gratifying a marriage to Colonel Brandon would be to all her friends, particularly her mother and sisters, though she knew they would never urge her to marry where she could not love. He would be far better off finding a different woman to marry. He deserved far better than what she, heartbroken, could ever provide. By the time she returned to the cottage, Marianne had even determined to keep half an eye out for an appropriate lady, though she had absoluely no intention of engaging in anything akin to matchmaking.
Fortunate for Marianne, and her future happiness, that the Colonel knew to an inch the lay of the land.
Mrs. Dashwood greeted the visitor with a glance at her daughter, letting Colonel Brandon know that Marianne was not herself. He nodded his acceptance of that fact, and when she offered an excuse to leave the room for a moment, he stopped her, insisting they all sit down and talk comfortably. This put Marianne much at ease, until Margaret, as much in on the "secret" as everyone, said candidly, "I was to follow Mama, you know, just a moment after she left the room, so you and Marianne could speak privately. I suspect she thought you wanted to discuss what everyone was saying last evening about the two of you."
"Margaret!" mother and daughter admonished together, but the Colonel only laughed. Glancing smilingly at a blushing Marianne, he declared, "My dear friends mean well, but they really should stop making matches. I am a bachelor - a decrepit one, no doubt, but single nonetheless - and as such my friendship with your family must always be misconstrued. If I were not madly in love with Miss Dashwood, it would surely be the beautiful widow who had stolen my heart." Mrs. Dashwood laughed. "And perhaps you too, Miss Margaret, will someday know the privileged of being the next lady to whom Mrs. Jennings would have me play beau."
The words were spoken lightheartedly, enough so to allow Marianne to regain her composure, but the look with which they were spoken told her so much more. He loved her without question - of this she was certain. He had openly declared it, and though said in jest, Marianne knew he spoke sincerely. The recognition of this fact made her blush anew, but she also knew he would never press her on the subject, or do anything to ruin their ease together. He had neatly provided her with an escape from an uncomfortable predicament, and her overwhelming sensation was of gratitude for his friendship. As he continued to quiz Margaret, who was highly amused by the notion of having the Colonel as her suitor, her feelings saddened, and she hoped he would find a more worthy object for his affections. And though neither knew so yet, it was at this moment when Marianne Dashwood began to fall in love with Colonel Brandon.