Posted on: 2012-01-30
Edmund Bertram awoke exhausted once more after another restless night. He had not slept well since his return to Thornton Lacey. His spirits were low, for his visit to London had left him with less assurance and weaker hopes about the future he had hoped for with Mary Crawford.
Were her interests now engaged with another, he could better bear it; but he was convinced that Mary had a decided preference for him. Yet his meetings with her in London had shewn him how different they were in tastes and manner, at least when the influences of wealth and fashionable friends surrounded her. Miss Crawford had been in lively spirits, and appeared all too eager to agree with her friends' mercenary ambitions. It reminded him once more than his income as a clergyman was far too small to support her in the manner which she desired.
He was comforted in small part because she had ceased to mock and criticise his profession. Indeed, she had not mentioned it at all during his visits, and he hoped but was not certain that her restraint indicated she had resigned herself to becoming a clergyman's wife. He felt her hold on his heart more than ever, coupled with his loneliness as a single man; yet his doubts were such that he continued to hesitate to make an offer for her hand, beginning but being thus far unable to complete a letter containing his proposal.
With his thoughts heavy, Edmund embarked upon his day's tasks, and by midmorning the post had come, bearing a letter from his cousin Fanny. He was eager to read it, for he had poured out his heart about Mary in his last letter to Fanny, who was his most trusted confidante.
Before he could open the letter, however, he was interrupted by his butler. "I beg your pardon, sir," said Bradley, "but a man has come from your father's house on an urgent matter."
Edmund placed Fanny's letter inside the Bible on his desk and asked Bradley to show the man in. He recognized one of the footmen who served at Mansfield Park. "Sir, your father has sent me with pressing news about your brother," the young man said, handing a note to Edmund.
Edmund read his father's scrawled handwriting, indicating distress. Tom, his father had written, had gone from London with a party of young men to Newmarket, where a neglected fall and a good deal of drinking had brought on a fever; and when the party broke up, being unable to move, had been left by himself at the house of one of these young men to the comforts of sickness and solitude, and the attendance only of servants. Instead of being soon well enough to follow his friends, as he had then hoped, his disorder increased considerably, and it was not long before he thought so ill of himself as to be as ready as his physician to have a letter despatched to Mansfield. Upon receiving the news, Edmund's mother became in such as state that his father could not leave her side, and he begged Edmund for his support at this time.
Edmund lowered the note, knowing what he must do. He responded to his father's letter, writing that he would go immediately to attend to Tom and to reassure his mother that all would be well. He wrote a second letter to his curate, informing him that a crisis would take him away for an indefinite time and asking him to attend to the business of the parish in his absence. Finally, he asked Bradley to assist him in packing a trunk.
By early afternoon, Edmund was on his way, and by nightfall he had arrived at the home of the family where Tom was staying. The family, the Lesters, seemed relieved to welcome him, and indicated by their manner that they were eager to have Tom gone. He asked to be shewn to his brother straight away.
The sight of Tom was a shock, for his condition was grave; it was clear by his appearance and the smell of the room that he had been poorly cared for as one to whom the family owed no allegiance. Edmund asked a servant for the particulars that he would need to help his brother: when the physician had last seen him and what he had reported, and the location of a nearby inn. Fortunately, a respectable inn was not far from the family's home, and within the hour Edmund, after compensating the family for their troubles, had removed his brother from their unwilling hospitality.
The innkeeper was none too eager to have a very ill man in his establishment either, but relented when Edmund offered to double his payment for the room requested. He winced as he made the offer, for he did not know how long they would need to remain, and at this rate he would quickly run through the funds he had been saving for improvements to Thornton Lacey that would make his property a pleasing and elegant home for Mary. Nevertheless, his brother's needs were more important.
Edmund carried Tom to the room, his weight dangerously light and his manner delirious, and after he had thanked and dismissed the Lester family's servants who had accompanied him, he realized that he would not be able to care for Tom alone. He returned downstairs and spoke to the innkeeper, asking if he had a young boy who could help him during his stay.
The innkeeper, now viewing Edmund as a source of generosity, nodded enthusiastically. "Ay, me young son John, sir. 'E's a good lad o' ten years and 'e'll be a fine help to yer."
He called to John and a thin, quiet boy with wild mop of brown hair and intelligent eyes soon joined Edmund. The physician was sent for, and while they awaited his arrival, John brought basins of warm water, cloths and towels so that Edmund could remove Tom's clothing and bathe him. Tom moaned and shivered from the cold air and shock of water against his skin, and John quickly ran to the fire to stoke it and increase the room's heat.
When Edmund finished, he gathered the soiled garments and cloths in a large towel and held out the bundle to John, asking him to take it to their washerwoman. John's reluctance to touch the pile was evident, so Edmund reached in his pocket for a few coins. John accepted the coins with alacrity, and grinned when Edmund said that he could burn the bundle if he preferred.
By the time the physician arrived, Edmund had dressed Tom again in some of his own undergarments, as the brothers were fortunately similar in size. "The biggest concern is his fever," the physician groused. "Someone should have continually applied cold cloths to him to try to bring it down, and I am afraid his prior caregivers neglected my instructions."
"I am his brother; I will do whatever he needs," Edmund assured him.
The man nodded. "I am pleased to hear that." He went on to give Edmund instructions for applying poultices of onions and herbs to Tom's chest to prevent infection in the lungs, as well as cooling cloths for the fever. "I also fear that he is very dehydrated and weak. He must eat something. Please have the cook at this establishment bring him broth three times a day and try to encourage him to take it in."
Edmund's attempt to feed his brother, with John helping to hold Tom upright, was a failure, for he vomited the first spoonful and refused to take another. The hour was now quite late; so Edmund dismissed John with much thanks and asked him to return the next morning with breakfast for Edmund and another bowl of broth for Tom.
It was another mostly sleepless night, made nearly unbearable by Tom's delirium. Edmund's fear for his brother's life compounded his already existing fatigue, and inarticulate attempts at prayer brought little relief. He desperately wished he were not alone, but who among his family could assist him at this time? His mother, were she there, would move from stupor to hysteria and back again; his father's worry would likely express itself in anger. He sisters, Edmund was sad to admit, were too selfish to concern themselves much with Tom's needs. And although his Aunt Norris might be helpful with the practical aspects of Tom's care, her officious and sometimes cruel manner would depress his spirits.
There was only one among his loved ones that he wished for right now: Fanny. She would be as useful as his aunt, if not more so, in providing for Tom's needs. But more important, her gentle manner, listening ear and compassion would soothe and strengthen Edmund, providing a much needed balm so that he could continue to minister to his brother.
He missed Fanny dreadfully. She had been with her family in Portsmouth these two months past, and it was their longest separation since his years at Oxford. But during those years she had been a child, a sweet and devoted one, yes, but more pupil than friend. She had matured considerably in the last two years and was now a thoughtful and sensible young woman. She had, he realized suddenly, become his equal. He had no one like her, with whom he could share whatever cares pressed his heart, whose judgment he trusted without parallel.
He knew that Crawford had visited her at Portsmouth and continued to press his suit. Crawford had told him that Fanny's manner was warming toward him, and Edmund wondered if he would soon hear word of their engagement. For a moment, he envied Crawford, to have won the heart of one as sweet and gentle and kind as Fanny. If he married her, he would be a lucky man indeed.
His memories of Fanny comforted him, and as Tom's rest became more settled, Edmund finally fell asleep, his cousin on his mind and heart.
Posted on: 2012-02-05
Edmund woke scarcely three hours later as sunlight filtered into the room. He stretched to relieve the aches in his back and neck acquired from sitting upright in a chair all night. While still very tired, he surprisingly felt less weary than he had the day before. He smiled. It was as if Fanny and her soothing presence had been with him, if only in this thoughts.
Tom still slept, his slumber interrupted only by occasional coughs or murmurs, and Edmund felt that his brother, too, was more at peace. He placed his hand on Tom's forehead; it was very warm but no longer burning hot.
He rang the bell and John was there instantly, as if he had been waiting outside the room for Edmund's summons. He brought Edmund more cool cloths and a freshly made poultice from the kitchen, and returned a short while later with breakfast.
The boy was less shy than he had been the previous day. "Beggin' yer pardon, sir, but what's wrong wit' 'em?" he asked.
"An infection from a bad fall and a fever," Edmund answered; but being unable to cease being a clergyman, he added, "brought on by too much liquor. Let this be a lesson, young John: do not ever drink too much."
The boy grinned. "My da says the same thing. 'E says 'e runs a 'spectable 'stablishment, not one where guests drink so much they fight."
Edmund smiled. "Your father is a wise man."
Tom roused during their discussion, and Edmund spoke gently to him, seeking a response. Tom's level of awareness was difficult to discern, for his few words were unintelligible. John helped Edmund once more raise Tom to a sitting position so they could feed him. He would only accept about five spoonfuls of the broth, but to Edmund's relief, he kept them down. The minimal effort exhausted Tom, however, so Edmund helped him again lay down to rest.
Before departing, John remarked, "If I am e'er this bad off, sir, I 'ope my brother'd do the same for me."
Edmund smiled again. "If you listen to your father, he may never need to."
The physician came by shortly thereafter, and expressed pleasure that Tom had eaten and his fever had subsided somewhat; he encouraged Edmund to continue to apply the prescribed treatments. Later that morning, one of the Lester family servants dropped off a letter from Edmund's father, Sir Thomas Bertram, which had been delivered to the Lester home. His father wrote of his concern for Tom's health, his gratitude for Edmund's service, his willingness to repay Edmund for any expenses incurred, and his wish to be kept informed about his eldest son's condition.
In a postscript, Sir Thomas added, "I am sure your mind is filled with Miss Crawford, but you may feel obliged by your sense of duty to consider such thoughts selfish at this time. Please do not allow your brother's needs to destroy your future happiness. Above all, do not allow Miss Crawford to think your interest in her has waned through want of communication. Although the Grants have no doubt sent word to her about Tom, you also should write to her friends in London so that she hears about the circumstances from you, for young ladies need to know the importance of their place in a young man's thoughts."
Edmund sighed deeply. Mary. She had scarcely entered his mind after hearing the news of Tom's illness, even though thoughts of her had filled his waking moments for months. Perhaps he was better able to focus on the need of the hour than his father thought possible for a young man in love. Or perhaps--
He shook his head. No, the fatigue and anxiety he had experienced in the past two days would drive even a woman as alluring as Mary out of any man's head. He sat down to return his father's correspondence and to apprise Miss Crawford's friends, Lord and Lady Stornaway, about Tom's health, while sending his regards to her.
Tom ate an entire bowl of broth at midday, and the happiness Edmund felt at his improvement cleared his mind enough that he thought he might read in the afternoon. He looked through his trunk and was pleased to see that Bradley had remembered to pack his Bible. He wished to read the Psalms, with his thoughts turning to one in particular, Psalm 94:
Unless the LORD had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.
When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O LORD, held me up.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.
He sat down and opened the Bible, and as he did so, a letter fell out and fluttered to the floor. Fanny's letter! He had completely forgotten it. He laughed, thinking of the Psalm he had just recalled. Was this one of the Lord's comforts to delight his soul, having Fanny's letter accompany him on his journey to rescue Tom? He was indeed grateful for the Lord's mercy.
With a short prayer for forgiveness, he set the Bible aside and picked up Fanny's letter, a two-page missive. His joy soon turned to confusion and, he was ashamed to admit, a little anger, for Fanny had written to him more forcefully than he had ever heard her speak.
She was upset and concerned by his last letter, the one in which he had shared his doubts about Mary. She had held her tongue and could no longer, and proceeded to cite the reasons she believed that a match between him and Mary Crawford would result in unhappiness for them both.
Edmund breathed deeply as he finished the first page of the letter, knowing his anger was unjust. Why would Fanny--his sweet, kind Fanny--say such things unless she was convinced they were true? He trusted Fanny, trusted her judgment, her moral clarity, and above all, her love and concern for him.
What had she written? He read again, "We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be. I sense in your letter much uncertainty about committing yourself to Mary. I believe this to be your better guide, Edmund, one that you must attend if you are to have the future of happiness and respectability that you deserve."
Was Fanny right? Were his doubts about marrying Miss Crawford the result of his better guide within, warning him about an unwise match? Were his concerns about Mary--her desire for wealth and status, her occasional lack of delicacy in speech, her criticisms of his profession--simply the effects of bad influence by worldly friends on an otherwise caring woman, or were they more integral to Mary's character?
"No!" he unexpectedly shouted, and then looked guiltily at his brother, who thankfully slept through his outburst. No, he repeated silently. He had seen goodness in Mary, true goodness. He had seen it in her friendship and kindness to Fanny, in her loyalty to her brother, and in the warmth and liveliness in which she encountered people and life. He knew Fanny had witnessed Mary's good and noble qualities as well. How then could she write what she had?
No, Mary was to be his wife, he was decided! She was to be his life's partner, the one who would support him for better or for worse--
He stopped, his inner argument frozen and his heart beating quickly. The night before, one of the worst nights of his life, when he had yearned for companionship and support, he had not thought of Mary. Not once.
"Oh, Fanny," he whispered. When had she become so wise? And how had he, her elder by six years, her teacher for the last eight, become so ignorant? Had he ignored his better guide for so long that he could no longer hear it? Perhaps he should heed Fanny's guidance rather than his own confused thoughts.
She had written a second page, one that might reveal more, or provide more direction and clarity for his dilemma. He picked up the letter and was about to read on when he heard a low but clear voice.
"Edmund," Tom said.
Posted on: 2012-02-11
"Tom!" Edmund cried, moving toward the bed and taking one of his brother's cold hands in his own.
"Where am I? What has happened?" Tom asked hoarsely.
"You are at an inn in a town not far from Newmarket. What do you remember?"
"We... we were at the races. We had been drinking..."
"You fell and hit your head, and it brought on an infection. Your friends left you in the home of the Lester family, for they were the nearest."
"James Lester... his family," Tom said, and then coughed.
"Eventually you became so ill that you asked them to send word to Father. Our mother is most distressed and cannot spare him, so I came in his place."
"How long have you been here?"
"I arrived yesterday and brought you to this inn."
Edmund rang for John to summon the physician, who informed them when he arrived that Tom's fever had broken. "He still needs a lot of rest," he warned, "or his fever may recur."
"I...," Tom started, and both men turned toward him. "I am hungry."
Edmund smiled. "That is not surprising. You have had only broth today, and almost nothing for days before that."
"Start slowly with solid food," the physician said. "Toast, perhaps, and he may have jam."
Edmund requested that John bring a supper of toast and tea for them both, forsaking the innkeeper's wife's delicious stew so as not to tempt his brother. When they had eaten, Tom closed his eyes and slept again, and only then was Edmund able to return to his letter, with a temper now much more willing to accept Fanny's guidance.
He turned to the second page and found no more advice for him; instead, Fanny had written, "Now that I have been frank with you, I must be honest with myself. I told you that I wrote with deepest concern for your well-being and happiness, but I also write with concern for my own."
Edmund paused. Was she about to announce her acceptance of Crawford? Fanny was such a selfless creature that he frequently had to encourage her to think more of her own happiness. These words therefore should have caused him to rejoice, yet they did not. Instead, he felt the same discomfort he had the night before at the thought of Fanny married to Crawford.
Her next words left him in shock. "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you!"
Surely she could not mean--? For he already knew she admired and loved him. Why then would she struggle against such feelings, or state them so emphatically? Unless...
Any doubt about the import of her words was dispelled instantly, for her next lines made her meaning clear. "Oh Edmund, I do not know when my feelings changed from love for you as my teacher and protector and friend, to love for you as a man. But they have changed, and I can no longer deny them."
He sat back, embarrassed and stunned, unable to read further. Some time passed before he could form any coherent thoughts. Fanny, his Fanny, cousin and sister to him, whom he had watch grow up from childhood, loved him as a man. How could he not have known she felt this way? How could he, who thought he knew her so well, have been so blind to what was in her heart?
And what about Crawford? Was she not warming to his suit--at least as the man himself reported? At this thought, Edmund groaned and placed his head in his hands. She had said last winter when he had urged her to open her heart to Henry, "Oh! never, never, never! he never will succeed with me." He had been shocked to hear such determined words from Fanny, and had striven to make her reconsider. He had even said to her that before Crawford could win her heart, he had to unfasten it from the hold of Mansfield! Little had he known how true his words were, and that Fanny's determined refusal came from a much deeper hold at Mansfield than fear of the unknown world outside.
He was ashamed of himself. He, the man she loved, had pushed her to accept a man she did not, despite her objections. He turned to the letter and read that indeed he was the primary reason for her rejection of Henry: "For though my concerns about his nature remain, those reasons were as nothing compared to the fact that my heart belongs to another. My heart belongs to you, Edmund, now and forever."
He groaned again as his shame deepened. For he had callously disregarded Fanny's feelings in much more than his support for Crawford's suit. Edmund had openly pursued an attachment with another woman in front of her, talking frequently of his growing regard for Miss Crawford, and often ignoring or neglecting Fanny in favor of Mary. How could Fanny not hate him for this?
He realized as he read her final lines how brave she had been to write such a letter, for she did not know how he would receive it and whether her confession would destroy their deep friendship. She begged his forgiveness if he did not return her affection and assured him that his happiness was her deepest concern. And she asked that he not delay his response.
He sat motionless for several minutes, his emotions coursing so violently within him that he wanted to weep. He had already wounded the most tender-hearted person he knew, and was afraid that any answer he might give would do so again. He did not know how to respond to her declaration, for he had not previously thought of her as more than his dearest friend. And Mary Crawford was the woman he loved, was she not?
No. No, she was not. Edmund was surprised at how easily the admission came to him, and how much of a burden lifted from his heart when he finally accepted that Mary would never be his wife. He had never been in love with her, he could now admit, merely infatuated. For how could he love a woman of whom he had not given a second's thought in his hour of greatest need?
And for whom had he wished in that moment? Only Fanny. He had wanted her beside him, had longed for her presence, and had been comforted by his memories of her.
Was she his dearest object on earth in more ways than he had ever imagined?
Even now, he wanted her with him. He longed to see her sweet face, hear her gentle voice, and gaze upon her soft, light eyes…
A vision came to him of Fanny the night of her coming out ball in December. He remembered how breathtaking she had looked at the start of the evening, how much joy had shone in her face as she finally realized her own loveliness and womanhood.
Of course, dunderhead that he was, when he had come to claim his two dances with Fanny near the end of the ball, he had been sullen and morose, for he and Miss Crawford had quarreled, and he had barely looked at Fanny. Again, he wondered how she did not hate him.
Lack of sleep caught up with Edmund at last, and he could no longer fight his fatigue. As his eyes closed, his last wish was to dream of a beautiful and radiant young woman, leaving her girlhood behind as she entered a ballroom and stepped into his arms.
Posted on: 2012-02-17
When Edmund awoke, only one thought was on his mind, and as soon as his brother's eyes opened, he expressed it. "I love her, Tom."
As Tom was still weak and not fully roused from sleep, some time passed before he was able to form the words, "Are you referring to Miss Crawford?"
"No, Tom. Fanny."
Tom raised his eyebrows, now fully alert. "Fanny? Our cousin Fanny?"
Edmund nodded. "Our cousin Fanny. I am hopelessly in love with her."
Tom continued to look quizzically at him for a moment, and then his lips slowly curved into a smile. "I have sometimes wondered if this would happen, for you two are as peas in a pod."
Edmund sighed. "But she is too good for me."
Tom laughed. "This is true, but nobody minds having what is too good for them."
"No, you do not understand. I have wounded Fanny deeply and do not deserve her."
Tom was quiet again, and then he motioned for Edmund to help him sit up before speaking. "By law I am our father's heir, and many younger brothers would have seized an opportunity like this to ... let their elder brother die, and thereby profit. But not you."
"Tom, I would never...!" Edmund protested.
"I know. I am proud that you are my brother and that I can have such confidence in you. I am very grateful you for all you have done for me."
Edmund shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He knew his brother felt affection for him, despite their numerous squabbles over the years, but he had rarely expressed it.
"You are a good man, Edmund, a very good man. You deserve all the happiness in the world." Tom paused. "I know I am not the best judge of women and affairs of the heart, but I have never been convinced that Miss Crawford would make you happy. What she values, you do not; and what you treasure, she does not. Fanny is much better suited to do you good and bring you joy."
Edmund was silent for a moment as he ran his hands down his face before exhaling. "I have created a mess, Tom. I do not know how to undo the expectations I have produced in Miss Crawford and her circle. And I do not think our father would approve of a match between Fanny and me."
"I cannot help you with the first. But as to the second, do you think Fanny will accept you?"
Not wanting to breach Fanny's confidences, he replied, "I think so."
Tom grinned. "I think so, too. Fanny adores you for some unfathomable reason, and that is all that matters."
Edmund smiled also, for if his brother's sense of humor had returned enough to tease him again, he was certainly healing.
"If it helps," Tom added, "I will champion your cause with Father. What do you think--will he listen to a chastened prodigal?"
John arrived with breakfast, briefly putting an end to the brothers' conversation. While they ate, Tom pressed Edmund with additional questions about Fanny, and as he answered, his conviction about his love for her grew. They spoke frequently of their years at Mansfield with Fanny, and with such a person and place on their minds, Tom announced as they completed their meal, "Edmund, I would very much like to go home."
Edmund agreed; and although the physician upon his arrival advised against it, wanting Tom to have additional days of recovery before traveling, both young men were eager for the comforts of family and home. Furthermore, Edmund's desire for Fanny's company had become a painful yearning, and from Mansfield Park he could persuade his father to allow him to travel to Portsmouth to retrieve her. He longed to see and touch and talk to his beloved, and God willing, they would be married in short order.
As the brothers prepared to quit the inn, expressing much gratitude to the innkeeper and his family, especially John, and to the physician for his care, Edmund pondered how much more lighthearted he was upon departure than he had been at his arrival. His spirit was not completely settled, for he did not know how he would end his connection to Mary honorably; but his doubts and confusion had ceased. By opening his eyes to his love for Fanny, the Lord's comforts--and hers--had indeed brought delight to his soul.