Posted on: 2010-11-28
Susan Price had not yet arrived at Mansfield Park before her suspicions were confirmed. Her dear sister Fanny was in love with her favourite cousin, Edmund. Susan thought it odd that Fanny should prefer a staid and sad Edmund Bertram over the charming Henry Crawford. Mystified, Susan had spent a week engaged in the dishonourable pursuit of eavesdropping on private conversations to understand the rather odd behaviour of her family.
She heard about cousin Tom's dissolute behaviour and consequent illness. She heard about her cousin Julia's elopement with a friend of Tom's. She heard about cousin Maria's imprudent marriage. She heard Aunt Norris complaining about Fanny's refusal to marry Mr Crawford and how it was all Fanny's fault that poor, dear Maria was to be confined to a cottage in a distant county. She heard, much to both her and Fanny's delight, that Aunt Norris would be joining Maria in her cottage.
What she had not heard was what most interested her. She did not know why Fanny preferred Edmund, she did not know the details concerning Maria's marriage and subsequent divorce, nor what Henry Crawford had to do with all of that. Even more frustrating, she did not know why Edmund was so much sadder than the rest of the family.
Susan had all but given up hope of ever unravelling the mysteries before her. Walking in the garden one day she considered asking Fanny for the details. Would that be too much like gossiping? She did not want to disappoint Fanny. She sighed and sat down on the grass beneath a tree. She need not worry about stains from the grass. Not only was the ground perfectly dry, but the colour of her dress would prevent any stains from showing. She sat happily, breathing in the cool air and calculating how much time she had before Lady Bertram would need her again. Momentarily she heard voices from the nearby shrubbery.
"Oh Edmund," came Fanny's gentle voice. "You must not blame yourself so."
"Who else should I blame? I am not responsible for the actions of others, but I am responsible for allowing myself to be so easily deceived."
"You could not have known."
"Ah Fanny. Always so kind and so careful of the feelings of others. You were not blinded to the improprieties of their behaviour. If you could see so clearly I too should have been able to. But I allowed myself to see only what I wanted."
"I had greater opportunity than you to see certain behaviour. Aunt Norris is right, Maria's disgrace is my fault."
Susan gasped at this and was half afraid of being discovered, but a loud exclamation from Edmund covered the small noise she had made.
"Fanny!" he cried. "You cannot mean you regret your refusal?"
"No cousin," came her soft, solemn reply, "never that. I mean only that I was aware of certain attachments and improprieties that my uncle should have been made aware of."
"Do not distress yourself, Fanny. It pains me to admit this but your goodness has never been appreciated as it ought in this family. I do not think your information would have changed the outcome."
There was silence for a few moments and then, just as they passed out of earshot Edmund said: "If only I had ever stopped to compare Miss Crawford's character with your integrity."
Susan did not think that would have helped, if Edmund had been as wilfully blind as he claimed. She considered her new information as she returned to the drawing room. Fanny had refused Mr Crawford because she had witnessed him behaving improperly with Maria. Edmund was miserable because he now knew how deluded he had been. And poor Fanny appeared to be his confidant. He could not know her feelings. Who then did Fanny turn to for support? Over the course of the evening it dawned on Susan how very alone her sister had always been. Fanny was the outsider and no one seemed to think of her feelings.
'Well,' thought Susan, 'there are two Prices at Mansfield Park now. I shall have to show Fanny that she can depend on me.'
As soon as she could, Susan cornered Fanny in a place she hoped was reasonably private. It was quite late in the evening, but a letter had arrived from William that day so Susan was sure of finding Fanny alone in the East Room. Having made certain of everyone else's whereabouts – including the few servants likely to come nearby – Susan tapped at the door, opened it a crack and stuck her head in.
"Fanny," she said softly, "do you mind if I talk to you for a bit?"
"My dear Susan, of course not. I should never have taken myself off alone like this. William is your brother as well." Fanny spread the letter on the table in front of her and pulled out the chair beside her, inviting Susan to sit.
"Yes, William is also my brother. I hope you will not think worse of me for saying that it is not William I wish to speak of tonight."
Fanny frowned slightly and nodded for Susan to continue.
"We are sisters, Fanny, and I cannot sit silently and watch you suffer without offering myself to support you. I know you are not used to having someone to confide in," she hurried on as understanding entered Fanny's eyes, "and perhaps you'd prefer me to never mention it again, but I felt it was my duty as your sister."
"Oh Susan," Fanny was softened by the talk of sisterly duty, as Susan had intended. "I have never had a sister with me, or even a friend. I should like to talk it over with you, but I don't know where to begin."
Susan asked a couple of gentle questions, carefully considered to draw Fanny out and the two sat up late in the night talking things over.
A few weeks later, Susan stood in an upstairs window watching Fanny and Edmund walking through the garden. From the way they stood she could tell that Edmund was once again lamenting the loss of his Miss Crawford.
"Oh Edmund," she sighed. "When will you stop mourning a creature that existed only in your mind and see what's before you."
There was a movement behind her and Susan turned abruptly. Pushing himself slowly out of a seat in the corner was cousin Tom. He walked across to the window with a rather strange expression on his face and looked out.
"Dear Fanny," he smiled when he saw the two walking and turned back to Susan. "Do you really think they'd suit?"
"I do," she answered steadily.
"Well, if they should come to care for each other I'd not stand in their way. Still," he turned back to the window, "I would have thought each could do with a livelier partner."
"Fanny would not prefer that."
"No, she always was a serious girl. And look how Edmund turns to her and relies on her already."
"I must return to my Aunt," Susan said, as Tom became absorbed in watching his brother and cousin.
After dinner Susan slipped into the library as her aunt had expressed a desire to hear some poetry. The door to the adjoining room was open and, without meaning to, she overheard some conversation.
"I saw you out walking with Fanny this afternoon."
"I know that things have not always been as they ought between us. I know that I have not always been the brother that I should have been."
"Tom, this is serious talk indeed."
"I am serious. I confess that I was not aware quite how depressed your spirits have been of late. I know that you confide in Fanny, but if you wish to discuss matters with me I am here for you. I'm sure there are some things that it wouldn't do to talk over with her."
There was a lengthy silence, during which Susan grabbed the first book of poetry she saw. If her cousins were going to discuss things that it wouldn't be proper for Fanny to hear, she was quite sure that she should be nowhere near. As she left the library she heard the low rumble of voices. Hopefully this would lift some of Fanny's burden and Susan skipped back to the drawing room to read poetry aloud.
Edmund sat beside his mother, gazing at the fire. Susan was reading poetry aloud, more for Fanny's enjoyment than anyone else's as Lady Bertram was dozing. Tom was reading a newspaper and occasionally sharing the information with his father. At some point they came across something that apparently gave them cause for concern.
First Tom paled and snuck a glance around the drawing room. He seemed to consider that no-one had noticed and turned to his father. Whatever had caught his interest it surprised Sir Thomas as well, who had to ask his son to repeat his whispered communication. Sir Thomas also ventured a glance at the other occupants of the room, but with less capacity for intrigue it was clear to Edmund that he was the one they were concerned for. He could draw but one conclusion from this. Miss Crawford was to be married. He considered the matter with equanimity. He had expected that such information would cause him great distress, but he really felt quite unaffected. He was surprised, but considered his lack of distress no doubt sprung from the hope that he was mistaken. There was only one way to find out.
"Will you not share the news with us?" he asked softly.
Sir Thomas sighed, glancing at his elder son briefly. "It would appear that Miss Crawford is to be married."
There was a sharp intake somewhere to his right, Fanny most likely. Edmund decided that his lack of concern must simply be due to shock. He determined to do his best to put Fanny at ease, at the very least she should not suffer.
"Does it give the gentleman's name?"
Tom lifted the newspaper up again and read the details. "A Mr Richard Worthing of Ashgrove in Norfolk."
"I'm sure she'll be pleased to be settled near … near Everingham," Fanny said.
"Yes," Edmund agreed. "I had forgotten that Everingham was in Norfolk. She will be pleased."
"I do not know Mr Worthing," Tom said. "Have you any information on the family, Father?"
Sir Thomas frowned. "I believe the Worthings also have property in Antigua. There was a John Worthing on board the ship I returned on. He spoke of wishing to live out there and planned to discuss the matter with his father and brother."
"To live so far away from all friends and family? I could not imagine wishing for such a thing."
"Nor could I," Edmund smiled at Fanny.
"Does it say where the wedding is to take place?" Susan asked.
Tom inspected the paper again, but this time there was no information to be had. "It only says that she has been staying in town with friends and mentions Everingham and her sister here at Mansfield."
There was a brief silence before Susan spoke again. "Usually one would be married from the bride's father's house. Miss Crawford has no fixed establishment though. Where will she be married?"
"Well," Edmund spoke quietly. "She may be married in the parish in London where she has attended services. She could choose to be married either from her sister or her … her brother's house."
None of them knew quite what to make of the idea that she might choose to marry at Mansfield.
"I'm sure," Fanny said quietly, "that given Miss Crawford's preference for town over the country she will choose to marry there, where all her friends are."
The others agreed with her and Susan took up the poetry reading again. There seemed to be nothing more to say.
A few days later, however, Dr Grant came to speak to Sir Thomas. It appeared that Miss Crawford wished to be married from her sister's house. "Apparently she feels that to marry in town would require her to marry from her uncle's house, which she has no desire for. As she will shortly be removing to Norfolk, she decided to marry here," he explained to the family over dinner.
"A wedding? How lovely," Lady Bertram said.
"It is only natural for her to wish that Dr Grant performs the ceremony," Fanny said quietly. "He could not do that in London."
"Still," Tom said, "there does seem to something rather indelicate about it."
"Dr Grant offered to try to dissuade her if we objected," Sir Thomas interjected, looking at Edmund. Tom, Susan and Fanny also turned to him.
"I see the last word on the subject is left to me. Fanny is quite right that it is only natural for her to desire that her brother-in-law performs the ceremony and I see no reason to deprive her of that family connection on her wedding day simply because it makes us uncomfortable."
"When is the wedding to be?" Susan asked her uncle.
"In a little over six weeks time. Around the same time that Julia and Mr Yates will be visiting."
The prospect of seeing Miss Crawford and possibly Mr Crawford so soon was rather disquieting and nothing more was said on the matter. The family as a whole did their best to avoid the subject completely.
Fanny and Susan discussed the matter on a walk one day.
"Were you surprised to hear that Miss Crawford wished to be married here?" Susan had asked her sister.
"Miss Crawford's feelings, well, her thoughts and opinions have never been what they should be. She does seem to be truly attached to her brother and sister, however."
"But surely she wishes to avoid any reminders of what happened?"
"I am about to say some very ungenerous things, Susan. I feel that you ought to know the truth about how some people behave. It will help protect you from unscrupulous people."
Susan nodded, trying to think of some way to assure Fanny that she felt as she ought.
"Our cousin, Maria, married Mr Rushworth despite being in love with Mr Crawford. Despite being engaged, she flirted and behaved improperly with Mr Crawford in front of everyone here, including Mr Rushworth. When Sir Thomas returned to Mansfield, Mr Crawford left the parsonage, I believe he went to town. Maria was in love with him and I think she had hoped that he would propose even though he had shown himself to have no serious or honourable intentions. When he left she clearly felt slighted and chose to continue her engagement and marry Mr Rushworth. It seemed to me that she wanted to show Mr Crawford that he had not engaged her heart and that she was not hurt by his defection."
"What a terrible foundation for the beginning of a marriage."
"Indeed. Do you see what I'm trying to say?"
"You believe that Miss Crawford has chosen to marry at Mansfield because she wants to show Edmund that she has not been hurt? Her reasons for marrying here are spiteful?"
"It may be so. I truly hope that her choice is formed out of love for her family. I think, however, that the only real difference between her and Maria's situations is that Edmund is honourable. He had intended to marry her, if Miss Crawford had been able to come to terms with being a clergyman's wife. Her inability to recognise vice as distinct from folly ruined that."
"I am glad."
Fanny turned to look sharply at Susan.
"Oh I do not mean that I'm glad that Maria has behaved so badly or that Edmund has been hurt. I only mean that I do not think she would have been happy at Thornton Lacey and would have made Edmund unhappy. Besides, their marriage would have made you unhappy and I shall always be glad you were spared that."
"Thank you, Susan. Now, speaking of Thornton Lacey, what do you say to convincing Edmund to invite us over there when Julia and her husband come to visit?"
"Oh that's an excellent idea. You ask him Fanny, I'm sure he won't say no to you."
Accordingly, at dinner that evening, Fanny put the question to Edmund.
"Edmund, Susan and I thought that it would be nice to visit you at Thornton Lacey when Julia and Mr Yates come. It would be lovely to see where you live now and how the house looks."
"Fanny that is a delightful idea, what say you Edmund?" Sir Thomas said.
"I would be pleased to welcome you all to the parsonage," Edmund said.
"Will you be pleased to see where Edmund lives now, Aunt?" Susan asked Lady Bertram.
"He lives here," she replied placidly.
"No, my dear, he lives at Thornton Lacey. He has merely been paying an extended visit due to Tom's illness. When Julia arrives he will return to his own house. I'm sure you would like to visit him."
"Of course," she said, always ready to agree with Sir Thomas.
"It's settled then. I hope, though, that you will give me a few days to prepare before you arrive."
"Julia and Mr Yates will need a day or two to settle in, I'm sure," said Fanny, "perhaps the third day after their arrival will suit?"
"Yes. I'll send you a note if it needs to be changed."
"You've been very quiet, Tom," Susan said suddenly. "Do you intend to join us?"
"I look forward to it! I am only wondering how Edmund plans to seat us all at his table. There will be eight of us."
"The dining room at Thornton Lacey can fit ten comfortably, eight will not be a problem."
Edmund left Mansfield Park the evening before Julia and Mr Yates arrived. They appeared to be a happy, well-matched couple as they came into the house chattering quickly. Mr Yates was giving Tom the news from town, while Julia entertained her cousins with her consequence as the wife of a lord's son. Once they were all gathered in the drawing room Julia looked around her happily.
"Well, Mansfield looks much the same as always. Where is Aunt Norris? I should have thought she would have been here to greet us."
"Your aunt now resides with your sister," Sir Thomas said gravely.
Julia twitched her mouth, "Ah, imprudent Maria is now saddled with her greatest champion. I am sure they will both be very happy."
"Imprudent?" Sir Thomas asked, picking on the very word that had shocked Fanny and Susan. "Do you really believe that her vicious conduct was nothing more than imprudence?"
Julia was a little disconcerted at this question. Tom and her husband turned their attention to the conversation.
"If she'd been more prudent there wouldn't have been a scandal at all," Yates said complacently.
"I believe such were the sentiments of Miss Crawford, who is no longer welcome in this house," Tom said quietly.
Sir Thomas's anger was slightly placated at his elder son's sense. "I see that you did not escape the mismanagement of education that Maria suffered from," he said to his remaining daughter. "I hope, however, that you will now take someone with good character and principles, such as Fanny, for a model of how your conduct should be."
Fanny blushed, as Julia turned incredulous eyes upon her.
"I am a married woman now, Father. If my husband does not disagree with my sentiments I see no reason for you to object to them."
"No? Would you reflect creditably upon this family after your sister's divorce and your own elopement? You may be married, but your behaviour is still a reflection on this family. If I do not feel that that is favourably I may cut you off as I have Maria."
Fanny gasped, shocked at this open discussion. Sir Thomas glanced in her direction, caught Tom's eye and proceeded to change the subject.
"Well, there's no reason to argue so when you've only just arrived. I'm sure you'd like to rest before dinner. Baddeley will show you to your rooms."
Julia and Mr Yates were subdued at dinner and the following day. Mr Yates had had a private conference with Sir Thomas, regarding the sort of behaviour that was expected at Mansfield Park. He related the conversation to his wife.
"Well, Fanny has certainly ingratiated herself with my father, now that we are all away from home. I am surprised that Tom allows it."
"I gather that she and her sister, Susan, were very helpful when Tom was ill. He also suggested that his daughters had been less willing to care for their brother."
At this Julia really was affronted. There is nothing so offensive as truth, after all. Mr Yates implored his wife to behave in a way that was acceptable to her father, hinting that the imprudence of alienating her family would have far reaching consequences. Julia, however, had never enjoyed being told what to do and no real affection for her husband or father that would make her wish to make them happy.
"Dear Julia," Lady Bertram said quietly, "come sit by me and let me tell you of our plans for tomorrow."
As the men had not yet rejoined the ladies, Julia had no inclination to disagree. Fanny and Susan were looking over some books, trying to determine which was to be read that evening.
"What plans are these, Mother?"
"We are all to go to Thornton Lacey, to see Edmund's house."
"How delightful. Are we to be there the whole day?"
"I believe so. Fanny?"
"Are we spending the day at Edmund's?"
"Yes. Sir Thomas wishes us to leave as soon after breakfast as we can so that we will have as much time there as possible."
"There now, Julia, isn't that a delightful plan? I'm sure you wish to see where your brother lives. Sir Thomas is very pleased with Fanny for thinking of such a thing."
Fanny blushed as Julia turned her eyes on her once again.
"I am sure that we have much to thank Fanny for."
Only Susan heard the undercurrent of tone in Julia's voice. She spent the rest of the evening watching Julia, concerned that here was a stumbling block to her plans for Fanny and Edmund. Julia seemed to be a polite Mrs Norris.
In the carriage, on the way to Thornton Lacey, Lady Bertram dozed.
"Well Fanny, I hear we are to thank you for this enjoyable day."
"I am sure someone else would have thought of it if I had not," Fanny answered sedately.
"Oh, but you are such a favourite with my father, I am sure he would not have taken such note of an idea if it had not originated with you."
"You are quite mistaken. Sir Thomas would have been equally as pleased had Susan or one of his children made the suggestion."
"We were sure that you would be pleased to see where your brother lives now, as you are no longer at Mansfield and will not see him nearly as often as we will," Susan said. "Indeed, were it not for your coming I'm sure no one would have considered this as see Edmund frequently."
Julia looked down her nose at Susan, made an indistinct reply and turned to look out of the window. After many minutes of nothing being said, Fanny made an attempt at conversation.
"Have you continued your driving lessons, cousin? I remember your beginning them when we all went to Sotherton."
"John and I have plenty of drivers for our carriages, so there's no need for me to learn to drive myself."
"Ah, I see. And have you spent much time at the theatres in town?"
"Oh, we've been once or twice, but we've been so much engaged with John's family and parties with our friends. It really is hard to find time to fit in even an evening of cards without planning at least two weeks in advance."
"Goodness," Susan said. "I am glad you're so much engaged and not me. I should hate to have to be in company every evening."
"I too prefer to be with just my family," Fanny smiled at her sister.
Julia smiled in a superior manner, "I can't say I find myself surprised. Neither of you would do well in town."
"It would be nice to visit the theatre, though," Susan sighed wistfully. "Maybe some concerts as well."
"Surely you experienced such delights at your home in Portsmouth?"
"No," Fanny said before Susan could express her indignance. "We were far too busy preparing my brothers for the departure of their ships."
"Well, I'm sure if you express your desires to my father he will be sure to give you a season in London."
"A season? Whatever for?" Susan said. "Two or three weeks should be plenty of time to visit the theatre and a few concerts."
"And perhaps the museum," Fanny added.
"Oh yes, the museum. I wonder if there has been any more about the exhibition in the paper. Remind me to ask Tom at dinner."
"I'm sure he stores up such information for your entertainment."
All the ladies were pleased to finally arrive at Thornton Lacey. Lady Bertram expressed her delight in finding herself in Edmund's drawing room in a quiet voice. Edmund had prepared refreshment to be ready as soon as they arrived, knowing that the journey would have tired his mother. Fanny was pleased to see Edmund and to see how much joy all the family experienced in this reunion. Julia and Susan were pleased to no longer be in close quarters with each other.
After everyone had refreshed themselves, Edmund took them on a brief tour of the house and gardens, keeping his mother's inability to exert herself in mind. It was not long before the family returned to the drawing room.
"I must say, Edmund, this is a charming little house. You have arranged everything very cosily."
"Thank you, Julia."
"I should like to take a closer look at your grounds, though. Would anyone like to join me for another walk? I am sure you cannot be tired yet, Susan."
"No, indeed. If my aunt is quite comfortable and Fanny will stay with her I shall be more than happy to have another look over the grounds."
Julia looked her surprise at such a pairing, but said nothing considering her father's proximity. Besides, her intent was to discompose Fanny and show her for the type of girl she really was.
"Thank you for walking out with me, Susan."
"It is my pleasure, Tom. It's such a beautiful day I'm well pleased not to be stuck inside."
"I had quite an interesting talk with Yates on the way over."
"And your father?"
"I daresay he found what Yates said very interesting as well."
"Are you planning to tell me what he said or do you simply intend to tease me?"
"I am going to tell you, when you stop interrupting. Yates said that he'd thought about what my father had said about behaviour and found that he was in full agreement."
"Yes, apparently he considered the fact that he may one day have daughters of his own and how he would wish for them to behave and be treated. He plans to talk more with my father on the subject."
"That is wonderful news."
"You don't seem very pleased."
"I'm pleased with Yates. Julia however..."
"What of Julia?"
"He said that he'd tried to speak to her, but she showed no inclination to change her ways. She has apparently said some rather unpleasant things about Fanny. Yates worries that Julia may attempt to upset Fanny."
Susan laughed quietly. "I am glad to see I wasn't imagining things. I don't believe that Fanny has noticed."
"Fanny is too good."
Susan turned to Tom and then stood to face the house. "Perhaps if Edmund sees Julia's treatment of Fanny he will realise what a treasure is in his grasp."
Tom smiled broadly. "Let us hope so. Come, we will show Julia how she ought to behave."
Tom and Susan re-entered the Thornton Lacey drawing room in time to hear Julia speaking of the one thing everyone was trying to avoid.
"... and so I hear Miss Crawford will be married from Mansfield Parsonage. Next week, I believe. I look forward to seeing her again."
"I don't think that's likely, dear." Yates said quietly. "She's not welcome in your father's house, remember?"
"I don't see why she shouldn't be welcome. If Edmund wishes to avoid her he may stay here. After all, he's the one that ended their acquaintance."
"Julia," Yates started.
"You are welcome to visit Miss Crawford at the parsonage," Sir Thomas said, "but that woman will not be admitted into Mansfield Park."
"Why ever not, father? Do you fear she will captivate Tom and call off her current engagement?"
Tom laughed. "I thank you, Julia, but I have no desire to have anything to do with such a woman. I know her true character and I know the kind of woman I truly value. She could not captivate me no matter how hard she tried."
"Really, Tom. You know it isn't so. Admit that you find her beautiful and entertaining."
"She is both, but if I am to marry a woman I require something more."
"Well, soon I shall have two brothers with only one character between them – that of Edmund. How utterly boring it will be to visit you then."
"Boring? How can you say such a thing, Julia. I should be pleased to spend more time with both of your brothers."
Fanny, attending to her aunt's concerns, had done her best to ignore the rest of the conversation. Her attention was riveted on Edmund once Miss Crawford came up. She was pleased to see that both Tom and Mr Yates were more sensible than she had thought. She had witnessed Tom's reformation herself, but Mr Yates' was a pleasant surprise. Julia had a good husband who would care for her.
"Oh, Tom," Fanny said, interrupting whatever Julia had been about to say. "Before I forget Susan asked me to remind her that she wanted to ask you about the museum in London."
"Oh yes, thank you Fanny. Has there been much more about it in the papers?"
"You are interested in the museum, Miss Susan?" Yates asked.
"Oh, yes. Tom has been telling us about the new exhibit and reading the newspaper reports to us."
"Well, I believe I can go one better. I myself was there shortly before we left London."
"You were?" Julia asked.
"Yes, I asked you to join me but you had an appointment with the modiste."
While Mr Yates regaled his audience with tales of his adventures in the museum, Sir Thomas took Julia aside.
"Julia, I wish you to be serious," he began.
"I am perfectly serious, father. What reason is there for barring the poor woman from the house? She has done nothing to forfeit our regard."
"She excused the behaviour of her brother and your sister as folly. She expressed herself quite clearly to Edmund, saying that it was only the discovery that rendered their behaviour unacceptable. She intimated to Fanny that she wished your elder brother dead during his recent illness, so that Edmund would become my heir and she need not marry a clergyman. This is not a woman whose morals I can approve. I only hope that your liveliness does not mask similar moral turpitude."
"Really, father. Of course Miss Crawford does not wish to think ill of her brother. And while she may have considered the possibility of Tom's death I am quite sure that Fanny misunderstood her. Fanny's understanding is not particularly good, Aunt Norris has always known this."
"I do not wish to discuss Mrs Norris, nor her opinion of Fanny. I have no doubts as to the excellence of Fanny's understanding. Your reliance, however, on the opinion of Mrs Norris calls your understanding into question. If you wish to continue to be welcome in my house you will regulate your conduct and conversation accordingly."
Sir Thomas returned to his seat beside his wife, leaving Julia in no doubt of his feelings.
"My Dear Sister," Julia wrote. "I hope that you and Aunt Norris are well and that you are enjoying yourselves in your new situation. I am sure you cannot be worse off there than I am here. You cannot imagine the sad state of Mansfield Park. Prim, serious little Fanny is now the belle of Mansfield. Miss Crawford is shortly to marry from Mansfield Parsonage and we are not to welcome her here. I call that most ungenerous! How I wish you were here to check the impertinence of these Prices. I suppose you have heard from Aunt Norris that Fanny has brought her sister Susan to live here with her. She is almost as great a favourite with my father as Fanny is. It seems that I am to model my conduct on hers if I wish to be a suitable daughter. Can you imagine! And it doesn't stop there. Tom seems to be turning into a second Edmund and John seems to be not far behind. Soon Mansfield Park will be so dull and boring that you shall not regret this society for a moment. Well, I shall have to struggle on by myself. I fully intend to attend the wedding, though I have no doubt I shall have to sneak out of the house in order to escape a thousand sanctimonious lectures. No doubt they will all be given with the intent of running on so long that I will be late or in the hope that I shall be put to sleep and miss it entirely. I have no intention of allowing that to happen. I am sure that John and I would be pleased to have you come to visit us once we are settled in our place again. No doubt once we're away from the stifling atmosphere of Mansfield Park he will regain his usual temper. I have no doubt that you would like to be in town again. It is so harsh of father to confine you to the country. Do you know that he has also suggested that he will cast me off if I do not become more like Fanny. Well, I won't do it. I look forward to seeing you in the near future and will tell you all about the wedding in my next. Yours, etc. Julia"
Unfortunately, Julia left this letter out and her husband came across it. He began to wish that he had married a woman of character, rather than beauty. Regretting his marriage caused his treatment of Julia to suffer. Given how little she seemed to care for him, he began to feel that he was under no obligation to be kind to her. Only his desire to lead an honourable life prevented them from having a very unhappy marriage.
Posted on: 2010-12-07
On the day of Miss Crawford's wedding Edmund found himself alone at Thornton Lacey. He had woken, breakfasted and gone about his morning quite happily. It was only as he began to prepare his sermon for the next week and was casting about for a suitable theme that he remembered the significance of the day. He sat for a few moments, staring out the window and pondering what might have been.
Finding himself almost completely unaffected by the marriage of Miss Mary Crawford took Edmund by surprise. He had expected that his spirit would be crushed by such news. The fact that she had probably already been married, before he had even remembered that today was the day, caused him to re-evaluate his position on the matter. He began to think that perhaps he had never truly loved Miss Crawford. Concerned, he decided to head over to Mansfield Park to discuss the matter with Fanny.
He saddled his horse and rode over. There were not many people on the roads. He passed only one open carriage. He nodded to the occupants before he realised that Miss Crawford was one of them, the other presumably her husband. Shocked at his behaviour, he spurred his horse on to reach Mansfield Park faster.
He found Fanny walking with Susan in the shrubbery.
"Edmund," Fanny exclaimed in surprise. "We did not expect to see you here today."
"I find I have something I should like to discuss with you, Fanny."
"That is very convenient, as I am sure my aunt needs me and I would not like to leave Fanny here alone," Susan said, starting to return to the house.
Fanny sighed, taking a deep breath before she spoke. "Are you very sad?"
"No, I'm not."
She turned to look at him in surprise. "You're not?"
"No, that is what I want to talk to you about. I had quite forgotten about the wedding today. I only remembered just before I came to see you."
"I even met the happy couple as I was riding over?"
"Do not distress yourself. I was not distressed. I barely recognised Miss Crawford. Mrs Worthing now."
"I am glad of it. I should not like to think that she has caused you more pain."
"Fanny, I have confided my feelings in you from the very beginning of our acquaintance with the Crawfords. I hope that has not been too burdensome?"
"I have been honoured by your confidence."
"Well, given everything I've said I think you will be surprised by what I have to tell you today."
"It occurred to me this morning, it was while I was puzzling over my forgetting what should have been a most painful day. I begin to think that perhaps I was never truly in love with Miss Crawford after all."
"But the pain you felt..."
"Was the pain of having my illusions shattered. I was in love, Fanny, but not with Miss Crawford. Mrs Worthing, we shall have to remember to call her that. I was in love with a creature that I created in my mind. I believe I've said something like that to you before."
"Yes, I do remember you saying that."
"Well, I think that it has finally sunk in. Naturally the creature I created is the woman I would wish to marry. All the pain I felt was the disappointment that Miss Crawford – Mrs Worthing – fell so far short of that woman," he turned to Fanny, grinning broadly. "I should not say such a thing but I believe that I am deeply indebted to Maria and Mr Crawford."
"Oh, I know, it comes perilously close to condoning vice. However, if their behaviour had been what it ought I might have married Miss Crawford, she would not be Mrs Worthing then! And all the pain of disappointment would come after the marriage and I would be disillusioned and miserable. Sad as it is, the vice of those two has prevented Miss Crawford and I from a most unhappy alliance."
"Well, I am pleased that you were spared that. And I am very pleased that you are no longer in pain over this matter."
Susan had arrived at the house at the same time as a rather smug looking Julia. Mr Yates and Tom were standing in the doorway.
"Ah, my jailers await me," Julia exclaimed. "Did you really think you could prevent me from attending the wedding?"
"We did not try," Mr Yates answered, slightly less than truthfully.
"Have you left Fanny all alone?" Tom asked Susan.
"No, Edmund rode over from Thornton Lacey and wished to speak to her."
"Really? Then he probably passed Mr and Mrs Worthing in their carriage," Julia commented.
"I could not say," Susan replied. "Perhaps he will stay for dinner and you can ask him then."
"I hope he will stay," Mr Yates said. "I always think it must be dreadfully sad to have to live alone. Were it me I would be over here every day and have company with me when it was not possible."
"I should not have married you if you were a clergyman."
"Had he been a clergyman you would not have eloped," Tom said.
"I could still take orders," Mr Yates said as the group moved into the drawing room. "Perhaps I should consider it. Being a younger son I should perhaps have some sort of profession. I'm sure Edmund would advise me."
"That's not very funny, John," Julia said.
"I could recommend the navy," Susan said. "Two of my brothers are in the navy. Of course, you may be a bit old, I do not know. They both went when they were very young."
"No, the navy would not do for me. Nor the army. I should not like to fight with other men, nor to be so far from all those who are dear to me."
"Ah, Yates, confess, you think the church would give you the best chance for respectful idleness, is that not so?"
"You have found me out, Tom."
"If that's the case then I don't think you should mention it to Edmund," Susan said.
"Oh no," Julia continued. "He takes his sermon-making very seriously."
"As he should," her husband answered. "I may joke about it, but he has an important duty to his parish to uphold. I cannot think of a person more suited to it than your brother Edmund."
When Fanny and Edmund joined them in the drawing room all conversation stopped.
"What is this guilty silence?" Edmund asked. "Have you been talking about us?"
"What could anyone have to say about the two of you?" Julia asked incredulously.
"He has a guilty conscience," Tom joked. "He's compromised Fanny and we must make him marry her."
Fanny flushed, looking horrified. Seeing this, Edmund gentled his smile. "Are you not yet used to your teasing cousin? You know he thinks too highly of you for such a thing."
"Dear Fanny, it was not you I was trying to discompose. Now, sit here beside Susan and rest yourself. Edmund has kept you out too long, I am sure you are tired."
"Are you staying for dinner, Edmund?" Susan asked, trying to change the subject.
"I think I might, if it's not too much trouble."
"You know Mother is always glad to see you and I'm sure our Father will be pleased as well."
"Where is Mother?" Edmund asked, turning towards her usual seat.
"I believe Sir Thomas had some questions about redecorating and they are inspecting the rooms in question," Susan answered.
"Oh I am pleased to hear it," Julia said. "The house is sadly out of fashion. But why he felt the need to trouble our dear Mother when I could have given him far more pertinent advice I do not know."
"You are not the mistress of this house," Mr Yates said quietly, "merely a guest."
"Well," Julia was quite offended by the reminder.
"I do not think my uncle cares to know about the latest fashions," Susan said quietly. "I'm sure if he did, he would have asked you."
Fanny was the only one who did not perceive the slight that Susan intended. Julia flushed as Tom and her husband smirked at each other.
"Well," she said again. "I have not yet told you about the wedding. I'm sure you're all eager to hear about it."
"Oh you must wait till dinner," Edmund said. "I am sure that Mother would like to hear all about it. Do you not agree?"
"Oh, yes," Fanny said quietly. "She would much prefer to hear it in full from you the first time. I would not wish her to think that her interests were not taken into account."
"You are merely trying to put it off, Edmund. I'm sure you will find some excuse to return to Thornton Lacey for dinner."
"Not at all. I am sure, however, that everything went well. In fact, I know it did, for I passed the happy couple on my way here and they looked so pleased that I'm sure it was the most splendid wedding anyone could have wished for."
His equanimity surprised everyone but Fanny.
When they gathered for dinner, Edmund was the one to bring the subject up again.
"Now, Julia, tell us all about the wedding. We did not allow her to talk about it before," he turned to his mother, "as we were sure you would wish to be one of the first to hear it."
Lady Bertram turned expectantly towards Julia and the entire table quietened to listen to her. Sir Thomas gave her such a forbidding look that she almost wished she had not attended the wedding.
"It was a rather long ceremony," she started. "Dr Grant seemed to think that as it was his sister's wedding that people would actually wish to hear what he had to say," she laughed lightly. "I am sure that the bride and groom did not hear a word he said, though they looked everything that was proper. Her dress was very fashionable. It was a pale blue colour with, would you believe it, a touch of dark purple in the trimming. I'd not seen such a combination before but it looked very well. I wouldn't mind a bonnet in similar colours myself."
"Did Mrs Worthing's friends and family seem pleased with the match?" Fanny asked.
"Oh yes. Mr Worthing is very wealthy, you know, and stands to inherit a great deal more from his father."
Fanny looked disconcerted at this answer and Edmund took up the question.
"I think you have misunderstood Fanny's question. I believe she was asking if Mr and Mrs Worthing have made a match of affection or of convenience."
"Who could not have affection for such a wealthy man?" Julia asked.
Fanny and Susan blushed, while the young gentlemen avoided looking at each other.
"Perhaps that is a question you should ask your sister," Sir Thomas replied dryly.
"Well, Mr Worthing is nothing like Mr Rushworth," Julia said. "You must have seen, Edmund, how handsome he is."
Sir Thomas turned an enquiring glance on his younger son.
"I happened to pass the wedding carriage on my way over here. I must admit that all I noticed was that they both seemed very happy. I did not even recognise the lady as Miss, uh, Mrs Worthing at first."
"The carriage was a very fine barouche-landau that Mr Worthing purchased especially in honour of his new bride. I must say that I don't think the church has ever had so many fashionable people in it. It looked quite different. I daresay that Dr Grant felt the difference and, indeed, was honoured by being able to preach to such an audience and that is why he extended his sermon so. Indeed, I am sure he felt it fitting that he had such an opportunity to practice as Mrs Grant told me that there's a chance he shall succeed to Westminster Abbey and that they shall be moving to town."
"It is not a chance," Sir Thomas said. "Dr Grant told me all about it on Monday. They are to go and he will establish a curate in his place. I think we all know who that is likely to be."
Everyone turned to look at Edmund, except Lady Bertram who was blissfully unaware of the change such a circumstance could bring.
Before bed, Fanny and Susan met in the East Room.
"Edmund seemed very unconcerned with today's wedding."
Fanny smiled. "He says that while he understood that the Miss Crawford he loved and the Miss Crawford that really existed were in fact two different people, he did not truly know it. He feels that he never actually loved Miss Crawford, only who he thought her to be and as such he has no interest in the new Mrs Worthing's concerns."
"That is good news," Susan was more than satisfied.
"Yes, it is. I am glad that she will no longer be able to give our cousin pain."
"Fanny!" Susan cried indignantly. "Can you not see that he must now realise your superiority?"
"I see no such thing," she smiled sadly at her sister. "He told me that the woman he believed Mrs Worthing to be is the woman that he wishes to marry. All the pain that she caused him was a result of her not meeting that ideal. He will no more notice me now than he did before as I do not even meet that ideal in the superficial manner that Mrs Worthing did. So, I must no longer think of it and I beg you will leave off discussion of hopes that will only cause us both pain."
Though she respected Fanny's wishes and the sentiments behind them, Susan could not quite agree with her assessment of Edmund's meaning.
In another part of the house Sir Thomas and his eldest son were enjoying a glass of port or two before they retired.
"So," Tom began. "Edmund rode all the way over here simply to tell Fanny that he was at complete peace with Mrs Worthing's marriage."
"I am sure he felt the need of her support on such a day, whatever he may say of his lack of interest."
"Ah, you do not see what I see. Did he come in and greet us? Did he turn to either of us for support? No. He turned instinctively, without thought, to Fanny."
Sir Thomas raised his eyebrow. "Do you think her an inappropriate choice?"
"I find it an interesting fact that his first thought is always of Fanny."
"It would be nice to have a sister that would do the family credit. If only Edmund would see what's right under his nose. What has always been there."
As Tom made to leave, his father called him back.
"It would be a good match, for the family as well as for them. Do you think Fanny could learn to care for your brother in that way?"
"I'm not sure I should discuss a thing I was never meant to hear. You are the guardian of us all, however, and your trustworthiness is beyond comparison. I will have no secrets from you. Susan has intimated that Fanny already cares for him in such a way."
"She did not come out and say it, but she implied that all that was necessary for such a match was for Edmund to realise the type of woman that would make him truly happy."
"Well, you have given me much to think of, though I had much rather you had done it in the morning. Now, to bed with you."
At breakfast the next morning Susan was rather disconcerted to find herself being watched closely by her uncle. Unsure why she was under such scrutiny and suddenly feeling very out of place she both hurried her breakfast and tried to ensure that her manners were up to standard. She was not the only one to become aware of her uncle's notice. Both Julia and Tom watched with amusement. Tom, of course, knew exactly what had drawn his father's interest and was amused at Susan's discomposure. Julia was pleased that her father seemed to have finally become aware of the disgrace the Prices could bring upon her family. She determined to ensure that he had plenty of opportunity to see the truth.
"Why do you hurry so, Susan?" she asked. "Are you that eager to be out of our company?"
"Not at all cousin. I'm merely eager to have the chance of a walk this morning before my aunt needs me."
"Oh Susan," Fanny said. "I will be more than happy to spend the morning with our aunt while you enjoy the morning outside."
Susan let a flicker of annoyance show, at which Tom had to stifle his laughter, before she replied, "I had hoped to convince you to come with me. I know how much you enjoy the early mornings at this time of year."
"Ah, so the truth comes out!" Tom cried, unable to keep silent any longer. "There are sisterly secrets to be discussed. Well, we shall stand in your way no longer. Out into the shrubbery with you two."
Bemused, Fanny obediently followed her sister outdoors.
"Oh Fanny," Susan started, once she was sure they were a decent distance from the house.
"Whatever has come over you this morning?"
"Did you not notice?"
"Well, we're out here now so you shall just have to unburden yourself at once."
"My uncle was watching me so closely this morning. He has never done such a thing before. What can it mean? Do you think he is displeased with me in some way?"
"And this is what has you so wild to be out of doors this morning? My dear Susan, you cannot possibly think Sir Thomas is displeased with you. There is absolutely no reason for him to be so!"
Susan was pleased to hear Fanny laughing, but was still concerned. "Then why would he look at me so?"
"Perhaps he was not looking at you? Perhaps his mind was on business and he did not notice that he was staring?"
"I am sure that is not it. He was paying close attention to my every move. Had he been thinking of business he would not have done so."
"Well, perhaps he was noticing a resemblance to our aunt when she was younger."
"No, Susan," Fanny interrupted. "You can argue against my every suggestion, I am sure of it. Put it out of your mind until dinner. I shall pay more attention to my uncle and if he continues to scrutinise you I'm sure we can solve this mystery."
Susan had no choice but to accept her sister's admonition, as Fanny returned to the house to attend to Lady Bertram. Susan did not manage to put it from her mind, however, and spent much of her time agonising over what she might have done.
Dinner that evening was a mostly silent affair. Lady Bertram noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Sir Thomas watched Susan, while Susan and Fanny watched Sir Thomas. Tom and Julia watched Sir Thomas watch Susan. Mr Yates watched them all. Julia had confided her suspicions to her husband. He could not disagree with her completely – Sir Thomas was certainly paying a great deal of attention to Susan's every move – however he did not completely agree with her assessment of the situation.
It was clear to him that Sir Thomas was scrutinising Susan in the hopes of figuring something out. The disgust the Julia claimed to see existed only in her imagination. It did not take long to realise that Susan and Fanny were confused and that they were watching Sir Thomas in the hopes of understanding what was going on. Tom was the hardest for Mr Yates to puzzle out. He appeared amused by the entire thing, which told Mr Yates that Tom's assessment of the situation differed greatly from Julia's. Finally, Mr Yates gave up and determined that to ask Tom was the simplest method by which to solve the mystery.
"We're all very quiet today," Tom said finally. "Did your walk this morning tire you out so, Susan? I hope you did not exhaust Fanny."
"I am perfectly well, thank you, cousin," Fanny answered composedly. Susan was decidedly discomposed and had flushed when Tom had mentioned her walk.
"Goodness Susan, you blushed quite fiercely there," Julia said, determined to show her father how little welcome the Prices should be. "Is there something you don't wish us to know about your walk? A secret assignation, perhaps?"
Julia's spitefulness was something that Susan was well-equipped to deal with, however. "I didn't know there was any other kind of assignation. Though, who you think I might be meeting in the seclusion of the shrubbery quite escapes me."
"Well, there are two very eligible bachelors in the neighbourhood, you know."
"Of course, your cousins," Julia indicated Tom with a sweep of her hand.
Sir Thomas was pleased to see Fanny blush scarlet while Susan's mouth dropped open in shock.
"My cousins? Dear Julia are you serious?"
"Perhaps that is why you were so eager to walk out this morning, you knew that Edmund was to ride over to meet you. You only took Fanny with you as a blind," Fanny dropped her eyes and her hands to her lap, horrified. Susan tried to stifle her giggles as the men looked incredulously at Julia. "Ah, no, that's not it. Tom hurried you out with Fanny so that we would not realise that the two of you planned to meet. Come now, admit it."
At this Susan could not prevent her laughter any further, nearly choking as she was.
Tom stuck his nose in the air. "Are you implying that you do not consider me the most eligible bachelor of your acquaintance, cousin?"
"I have never met a more eligible man than you, cousin, except for your brother," Susan managed to gasp out.
"What? A younger son more eligible than the heir to a baronetcy?"
"I confess, cousin, were I wishing to marry at this stage, I would prefer a man that already has his own establishment."
"You do not wish to marry, Miss Susan?" Mr Yates asked.
"Not yet, Mr Yates. I still feel that I am a little young for such a thing."
"Good," Sir Thomas said. "For I am not ready for you to leave this house. I hope that you will spread your joy here for many a year before we are called to part from you. I am sure Fanny could not bear to lose a sister so lately gained."
Fanny turned a grateful, though embarrassed, look on Sir Thomas. Julia, however, was not yet ready to give up her advantage.
"Ah, but she would hardly be lost in marrying Tom and close enough to visit every day were she to marry Edmund."
"Then I shall hope for an attachment," Sir Thomas said with equanimity, "for I would not wish either of my nieces to be settled far away."
A significant look in Fanny's direction was missed only by the lady herself, still staring into her lap, and Lady Bertram, still insensible. Susan could not help herself and smiled broadly. Tom threw a look at Sir Thomas, who nodded his agreement. Julia, not understanding the intentions of the looks was rather disgruntled to find herself pushed to the side once again.
Julia sat silently, sulking, through the long evening in the drawing room. That evening, in the privacy of their chambers, she vented her feelings to her husband.
"It is all wrong, John, those girls are to blame!"
"For what, exactly?"
"Always I have been in second place, always! Now, Maria is disgraced and I am well married. My family should be proud of me – I should be first in all their thoughts and wishes. But no! It is those interminable Prices that they all think and speak of! It is not to be borne!"
"You cannot say that your father has not made his feelings on the subject clear."
"The very idea of one of those girls marrying into this family. That one of them should be Lady Bertram and take precedence over me! Can you countenance it?"
"Indeed I can. I cannot fault Sir Thomas for wishing for such a daughter."
"An impertinent hoyden such as Susan? Or a proper prig like Fanny?"
"I suspect your family is hoping for a match between Fanny and Edmund."
"Fanny and Edmund? Oh you are not serious, John. As if Edmund, who favoured Mary Crawford, could possibly look at Fanny in such a way. No, Susan is the danger."
"There is no danger at all," Mr Yates said quietly. "And, really, you're the one who started the idea. Obviously it was your favourable opinions on the idea that influenced your father."
"My father is not so blind as to think either of those girls a worthy match for my brothers. Not even Edmund, whatever you may say. Oh! Why must I be always pushed aside for someone else. Maria at least had some claim to precedence. But them!"
"I think you'll find that Sir Thomas has learnt the error of allowing someone like Maria such preference. He values character and principles and your cousins have those in abundance."
"And so the truth comes out at last. Like Mr Crawford you would rather have a Miss Price than a Miss Bertram."
"I have a Mrs Yates," her husband soothed, "and I like her very well. If she would heed my advice, I would venture to say that she would gain her father's admiration through very different behaviour than that which she has displayed on this visit."
It took all of Mr Yates's considerable skills in persuasion to convince his wife that neither the Miss Prices nor Sir Thomas wished for her to feel less than her cousins. When she woke in the morning Julia was calmer, but still spiteful. She had not yet learnt to condemn the ways of the fashionable society that had ensnared her sister.
Edmund was not pleased. A settled rain had descended on the countryside and had not lifted for the better part of a week. He could not ride over to Mansfield Park in weather such as this. He had no carriage and his father had not sent theirs for him. He slouched at the desk in his study. He was supposed to be preparing his sermon. What he was actually doing was sulking like a spoilt child denied a favourite toy.
"Am I really so without resources that a week in my company is so distressing?" he asked himself. "Am I really so desperate for company that I've taken to talking to myself?" he laughed quietly. "What would Fanny say if she could see me now?" After a pause, he continued quietly. "If Fanny could see me now I would be quite happily writing my sermon. Perhaps I can convince her to come for an extended visit. No, she'd never agree. Cousins we may be but it would be highly improper for her to stay alone in my house. If only there was a way for me to have her here always."
Similar thoughts were occupying his father. With a decisiveness borne of giving orders most of his life, he was quick to see a solution to many of the problems currently besetting his house. That evening, in the drawing room, he quietly laid the ground for his plans.
"My dear," he said to his wife. "I fear I have been sadly remiss in seeing to your comfort."
"Remiss? Whatever do you mean?"
"I failed to consider how much you must wish to spend time alone with your daughter during this visit."
"Indeed it is a pleasure to have Julia home again."
"I have been trying to think of a way for the two of you to gain the most pleasure from each other's company." This was not entirely true, but Sir Thomas was quite convinced that it was for the best.
"I am sure you shall succeed there, Sir Thomas."
"Do you think perhaps Fanny and Susan should go spend some time with Edmund? That way you would have Julia all to yourself while Tom and I entertained Yates."
"Do without Fanny and Susan?"
"You would have Julia, my dear, which I know is your fondest wish."
"Indeed it is. When shall we send them?"
"Well, Edmund will be here for dinner tomorrow. It would be most convenient to send them home with him. And then, he can return them when he comes to take leave of Julia in a fortnight."
Lady Bertram smiled her acceptance and Sir Thomas went to instruct the servants about preparing Fanny and Susan's things for packing.
Shortly thereafter the whole family was gathered in the drawing room.
"So Fanny," Lady Bertram said during a lull in the conversation. "You are to leave us again?"
Julia smiled maliciously, this was just what she wanted to hear. Fanny and Susan, however, were most distressed.
"Leave? Aunt whatever do you mean?"
"Indeed, both you and Susan, your uncle and I have just settled it between us."
Julia smiled even more broadly at this.
"But who shall attend to you in our absence, aunt?" Susan asked quietly.
"Julia, of course. Sir Thomas is so considerate."
Julia's smile faded. Dancing attendance on her mother was a chore that Julia avoided as much as possible. "Me, mother?"
"Indeed. Knowing how much we should like to spend time alone together, Sir Thomas has arranged for your cousins to visit Edmund for the rest of your visit." Lady Bertram was almost animated as she said this.
Susan and Fanny perked up at this, though Fanny felt a sinking dread at the thought of being once more in the same house – and a considerably smaller one at that – as Edmund. Julia's smile disappeared entirely, to be replaced by an unbecoming pout. Tom choked on his wine as he tried not to laugh.
"That is a capital idea, Father. I wish I had thought of it."
"And that, my dear friend, is why you are still a baronet in training," Mr Yates joked.
"And are my wishes to be completely ignored in all of this?" Julia asked petulantly.
"Whatever do you mean?" her husband asked with a warning tone in his voice and an eye towards her mother. "The entire scheme is centred on your wish to spend time with your mother before we return to town. I am sure there is much you wish to ask her regarding your prospective meeting with my parents."
Julia flushed, displeased at the reminder that Mr Yates's parents had not been particularly pleased by their younger son's hasty marriage to the sister of a woman involved in such a scandal. That she was the daughter of a respectable baronet had not influenced their decision to snub their new daughter one iota. She had yet to be admitted into their presence, though their son had been welcome at their home in town.
Sir Thomas's eyebrows rose. "If Julia is to meet such illustrious personages as your parents then I'm sure she would wish to have her mother's advice on how best to comport herself such that her conduct reflects well on her family."
Julia was unable to mistake the warning tone in her father's voice and grimaced.
"And who are your parents, Mr Yates?" Lady Bertram asked.
Mr Yates gave their names and titles with a slight hint of embarrassment. "I am their younger son, Lady Bertram, and your daughter and I expect to spend some time with my family on our return to town."
"How lovely," Lady Bertram said, eyeing her daughter. "Perhaps we should have the modiste visit. I'm sure Julia could do with a new dress for the occasion."
Julia brightened up at the thought, but Mr Yates was having none of it. "I would not wish to prevent any pleasure of yours, madam, but Julia had an entirely new wardrobe made up after our marriage. There are some items that she has not yet worn. She can have no need of new clothing yet. I'm sure she would be delighted to provide you with the details."
"Oh yes, that will be far less trouble, how good you are to think of such a thing, Mr Yates," Lady Bertram said, smiling at her son-in-law. After her exertions in conversation, Lady Bertram returned to her previous position on the sofa and let the ensuing conversation drift over her.
"Well, Father," Tom started, "when shall my cousins depart? Shall they return before Julia leaves?"
Sir Thomas smiled at the two girls. "I thought it most convenient to send them with Edmund tomorrow, he is coming for dinner you remember, and then he can return them when he comes to bid Mr and Mrs Yates farewell in a fortnight."
"An excellent plan," Tom said delightedly.
"I see only one flaw in it," Mr Yates said.
"And what might that be?" Sir Thomas asked, beginning to be affronted.
"Edmund will not want to give them back. I am sure we shall have to mount a rescue mission. We may have to sacrifice one of them to Edmund's household in order to return the other one to Mansfield."
Sir Thomas laughed, joined a moment later by Tom, Mr Yates and the soft giggle of Susan. Julia continued to pout. Fanny did not know where to look.
"I think, Sir, we shall have to sacrifice Fanny," Tom said. "While Susan may argue with this out of devotion to her sister, my devotion to my brother tells me that Fanny's sound understanding of theology would be far more beneficial to him than the cheer Susan can bring to his evenings."
"I think that you are more interested in the cheer that Susan brings to the evenings here, than any concern for your brother," Mr Yates said.
"Do you think then that Edmund would rather have Susan stay behind?"
"Oh no, I'm sure he would prefer his confidant to be always available to dispense advice. I merely question your motives in recommending the course best suited to him."
This brought on more laughter but, seeing that Fanny was really uncomfortable with the teasing, Susan brought an early end to the evening by suggesting that she and Fanny should see to the packing if they were to leave the next day.
In the East Room Fanny dared to disclose her discomfort to her sister.
"Do you think they suspect my feelings? Is that why they talk so?"
"I'm sure it is not," Susan lied. She did not like lying to her sister, but felt that sometimes it was best to protect her delicate nature. "Indeed, if they thought such a thing they would never hint at it so openly, would they? They would not like to say anything until they were certain of how matters stood."
"Indeed. I am sure you are right. I am being very silly. Of course, how could they mean anything by it when they must see how little suited I am to being what Edmund wishes for in a wife."
"I don't think Edmund truly recognises what he wishes for in a wife," Susan said.
"Oh, I am sure you are mistaken."
"Edmund is still quite young," Susan reasoned. "He cannot yet be so settled in his preference for one type of woman over another. Besides, I am sure that when he truly comes to think of finding a wife he will be far more interested in the goodness of her character than in the manner in which she presides over the dinner table."
"Now Susan, I don't want to talk about this any more. It will do no good to think such things. I know that Edmund is quite set in his choice of woman. It is only a matter of his finding her."
"Well, he's not likely to come across a woman like that holed up in Thornton Lacey, nor here at the Park. Unless he's planning to do some travelling, I say he's better off looking at what's in front of him than what he thinks he would like."
"Susan, no more. Let us see to the packing and retire."
As much as she disagreed with her sister, Susan acquiesced and said no more on the subject.
At Thornton Lacey Edmund sat puzzling over the note that the footman accompanying the carriage had given him. The carriage was to take him to dinner the next day, as it seemed unlikely that the weather would clear enough for him to be able to ride. Furthermore, his father expected him to prepare the house to welcome Fanny and Susan on his return. Apparently his mother had expressed the wish for some time alone with Julia – Edmund doubted that and suspected his father had cleverly manipulated the situation – and so he was to host Fanny and Susan until Julia and her husband departed for town.
To say Edmund was pleased with the situation in which he found himself would be a gross understatement. One could not, however, say that he understood it in the least. No matter how many times he read the note, he came no closer to the understanding he desired. For reasons he could not fathom his father had seen fit to solve a problem that he couldn't have known afflicted his younger son. Edmund resolved to think no more on it, merely to accept the occurrence, and returned to his sermon. It was not long, however, before the note was once more in his hands, being carefully perused and despaired over.
At dinner, Julia sulked and consequently had little to say. She had expected the rest of the party to be affected by her being out of spirits. She was wrong. Yates, Tom and Susan kept a lively conversation going, discussing current events that the gentlemen had read of in the newspapers. Julia was unable to comprehend why anyone would be more interested in the topic of abolition than the latest fashion, but presumed they were attempting anything in the face of her discontent.
Edmund and Fanny were the only ones concerned by Julia's behaviour. Lady Bertram noticed nothing and Sir Thomas was engrossed in the discussion of the other three, though he contributed little.
Edmund wondered at Julia's lack of spirits, "I had thought the plans were arranged so that she and my mother could spend time alone together?" he asked of Fanny.
"I believe she is upset because my aunt suggested new dresses and Mr Yates declined the offer on her behalf."
Edmund frowned, "Surely she is pleased to be spending time with my mother though?"
"I confess I am concerned, Edmund. I worry that Julia will not be a satisfactory companion for my aunt, though it is only a fortnight."
"Your concern does you credit. I am sure that Julia will know how to behave."
Fanny was not convinced, but felt unable to say anything against the lady to her brother. She knew Susan shared her concerns and had cautioned Susan against raising them to anyone else. "Sir Thomas would not have arranged anything that he felt would upset his wife. We must trust in his judgement," she had said, and now repeated herself to Edmund.
Edmund smiled, "Well, I for one am very glad that I shall have the company of yourself and Susan for the next fortnight. I only wish that it were longer."
"What did I tell you," Mr Yates said, picking up on the end of their conversation. "I do hope you're prepared to storm Thornton Lacey," he said to Tom.
Tom laughed. "My mother will need at least one of them to come back when you and Julia depart, so Edmund will have to lose one of them."
"What say you, Edmund?" Mr Yates enquired. "We had thought you would prefer to keep Fanny for her knowledge of theology and your habit of confiding in her, but perhaps you think it would be more beneficial to Susan to stay with you?"
"I should be happy to give them both up to the comfort of my mother," Edmund replied quietly, seeing that Fanny was distressed by the direction of the conversation.
"Of course you would, Edmund," Julia said, her first contribution to the conversation. "That is, after all, why they live here instead of with their own family in Portsmouth."
The conversation came to an end at that, as no one knew what to say in response.
The carriage ride to Thornton Lacey was almost entirely silent. Edmund felt strangely awkward and Fanny was no less uncomfortable. Susan pretended to sleep in the hopes that the other two would feel able to talk quietly. When they arrived at the parsonage Edmund's housekeeper showed them to their rooms and, after settling in and refreshing themselves briefly, the two girls joined Edmund in the drawing room for tea. The atmosphere was strained at first but the conversation turned to books. Edmund volunteered to read as the ladies worked and the first evening at the parsonage passed pleasantly.
Time at the parsonage was quite different to time at Mansfield Park. Without Lady Bertram making demands on their time the two girls hardly knew what to do with themselves. They read, they sewed, they walked. Susan spent more time outdoors, while Fanny was thrilled at the chance for so much uninterrupted reading time. Edmund was pleased that his cousins, and particularly Fanny, were having a chance to rest. He was far more pleased at having Fanny always available when he wanted to discuss his sermon topics before putting pen to paper. The days ran into one another with little to distinguish them, apart from Sunday when they listened to Edmund's sermon with great pleasure. The atmosphere was more relaxed at the parsonage and, while Susan occasionally wished for more lively company, Fanny was very happy.
There had been a day or two of rain, near the beginning of their second week at the parsonage. None of them thought anything of it, except that it kept them indoors. They were quite surprised by their visitor on the first clear day afterwards.
"Yates," Edmund cried, when the visitor was announced. "We were certainly not expecting you. I thought perhaps it might be Mr Leigh on parish business."
"I wish it were only that," he replied. "You are all the return to Mansfield at once."
"What?" Edmund said in surprise.
"My Aunt?" Susan asked.
"Is it Tom?" Fanny asked quietly at the same time.
"I'm afraid so," Mr Yates answered, looking at Fanny. "We were caught out in the rain while hunting the other day. Tom has taken ill again and Lady Bertram is beside herself. I would have come sooner but she refused to allow me to ride while the weather was so unsettled."