To celebrate Valentine's Day, here is a snippet from Willoughby's Return. I wanted this book to be as much Margaret's story as Marianne's and I thought it high time she started to enjoy herself by attending balls and meeting young men. Colonel Brandon's sister and family have recently returned to Whitwell and his nephew, Henry Lawrence, back home from university, is introduced to Margaret for the first time at a ball at the Brandon's home, Delaford.
The gong rang out, calling the weary dancers to rest awhile and replenish their energy. All the guests hurried off to the dining room, where tables were set, groaning under the weight of a magnificent spread. The musicians laid aside their instruments and dashed to the servant’s hall for a glass of negus and a bowl of soup. Colonel Brandon ushered his guests, Sir Edgar and Henry Lawrence, to his table, where much to her great delight, Margaret already sat, with her mother, the Middletons, and Mrs
Jennings. There was such a hubbub and frenzied bustle about the room as people found their chairs and struck up conversation.
Every little party was talking nineteen to the dozen, piling plates with cold meat and hot pies, sweets and sorbets, filling glasses with ice cold wine. Everyone had so much to say and wanted to say it all at once. The sound of chattering, braying, prattling, and screeching, punctuated by howling laughter or tittering giggles, added to the delirious atmosphere.
Henry took his seat next to Margaret. “This evening is surpassing all my expectations,” he whispered, smiling into her
eyes. “This is so much fun, do you not agree, Miss Dashwood?”
“I do, indeed, Mr Lawrence,” she replied. “I am enjoying myself very much, though I would more so if I felt we were not under so much scrutiny. Do not look now, but we are being observed.”
“Let me guess, Miss Dashwood,” he responded, “Lady Middleton and her sweet mother are watching us and, no doubt,
trying to catch the essence of our conversation. Hmm, let me see. I must give them something on which to ponder and discuss.”
He selected a dish of pink, heart-shaped marchpane and, taking one between thumb and forefinger, proffered it toward her,
proclaiming in an audible voice for all to hear, “Miss Dashwood, may I offer my heart? Pray, do not leave me in suspense, I beg
you. Do not break it, but take it and devour it whole!”
Margaret felt mortified, especially when she saw Lady Middleton exchange knowing glances with Mrs Jennings. Everyone laughed when Margaret refused to take the heart and even more so when Henry begged again and it was only when
Mrs Jennings spoke that the table fell silent.
“Colonel Brandon, where is your dear wife? Has she not come in to supper? I cannot think where she can be and for that matter, I cannot recall when I saw her last. I hope she is not ailing; she did look a trifle pale after the last dance. Bless my soul, but I must say it is probably wiser that she sit down more often.”
Margaret looked about the room and, in so doing, caught her sister Elinor’s solemn expression. They had each perceived
the hints that Mrs Jennings was making and knew their sister would be far from pleased. But apart from that neither of them
could see Marianne and both recognised the solicitous mien in the other.