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Posted on 2008-07-01
Mr. Henry Crawford paused in his reading of the Times to stare as his sister entered the sunny breakfast room.
"Lord! It is barely eight o'clock, Mary! Couldn't you sleep?"
She tossed her head as she sat down. "A fine question from you, Henry. You have no more right to be up early than I do. Did you feel a sudden, strange longing to see the sunrise today?"
"What if I did? I am surprised you can remember there is such a thing as a sunrise," he retorted, laughing.
Mary had woken in a bright mood, full of anticipation for a certain meeting that should take place that evening, and she must relieve her overflowing energy by teasing her brother. It was natural, considering the occupation of her own mind, that her next tactical maneuver should be a foray into the state of her brother's heart.
"What a phlegmatic creature you are! Only a week returned from Portsmouth and you sit down to toast and eggs with the heartiest of appetites. I am really quite shocked at you."
A slight widening of his deep-set dark eyes betrayed Mr. Crawford a little, but he was accustomed to disguise, and his hand did not shake as he turned another page.
"I have no idea what you mean, Mary. Do you imply that my appetite is dangerous to my health? The eggs are soft-boiled and would not give a moment's discomfort to even the most delicate, which I am certainly not," he said in the blandest possible voice.
"Henry! The eggs may be soft, but you are as hard-hearted a person as I have ever met. Have you no tender recollections to disturb your appetite in the slightest? And reading the paper as calmly as if you had never met anyone of the family of Price -- for shame! I hope the eggs may give you indigestion after all."
"You know I have an excellent constitution," replied he, to all appearances unmoved.
The truth was that Mary's teasing conjectures had at first missed the mark altogether. Henry Crawford's mind had been occupied with racing results, and the results of the expected evening's entertainment, at which he should meet Mrs. Rushworth and resume an absorbing game he had not yet won. But his sister's persistence bore fruit after all. He was a person of great imagination, and unexpectedly for a moment he saw a vision as vivid as a painting: Fanny Price leaning with both hands against the wall of the sea walk at Portsmouth, eyes looking past him, but sparkling with the reflected glint of sunlight on white foam; her cheeks and nose a little reddened with sharp air and stiff breeze. For a moment Henry Crawford sat still, his gaze unfocused; then he turned back to his paper.
Provoked by his indifference, Mary poured herself a cup of coffee and lost herself in her own thoughts, which, judging by the smile on her lips, pleased her more than a little.
Mr. Crawford finished his toast with deliberation and stood up. "Mary, best of sisters, I believe I must end my visit sooner than I had wished."
This sudden announcement brought Mary round with a jolt. "What? I thought you stayed at least another week. Have you had news?"
"Not exactly, but duty calls, you know; although I have no doubt you would have me ignore it as long as possible. But I feel an urge to be dull and sensible, and therefore I should go at once while I have the chance. Such moments are rare enough -- they should be indulged when they come."
"You don't mean to leave today?"
"Yes, today I think. I shall ride to our sister's house and finish the journey tomorrow, but I would rather start at once than arrive too late," he replied.
"You won't stay for Mrs. Fraser's party this evening? I cannot go without you -- you promised to escort me!"
"I made no promise of the kind, you sly girl, and you know very well you can have any of a number of your friends fetch you. I have already been too lazy; Everingham really demands my attention."
"Surely a delay of one day cannot signify," said Mary with a petulant look. She had expected him to give in to her pressing at once.
"It does not signify to my business, but I know myself, and if I stay one more day, the one will grow to seven despite the strongest resolutions to the contrary," he said with unusual honesty. He did not expect her to understand, and she did not.
"Then make it seven, for heaven's sake, Henry! I cannot imagine what could send you flying away so fast!"
"No, Mary," he said affectionately, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "I am absolutely determined, and it is your own fault."
"My fault? What can you mean?"
"You did, after all, allude to a certain Miss Price," he said over his shoulder as the door closed.
Mr. Crawford had determined to be exactly what his habits were not: steadfast and purposeful. The decision had been made swiftly, as he did everything. Fanny expected him to go to Everingham -- therefore he would go. It became apparent that charm alone would not win her; so he would be responsible and honorable and eager to do his duty: whatever would make her think well of him, that he would become. There was a kind of challenge in it that he accepted with enthusiasm, and which mostly compensated for the loss of the other challenge he had been pursuing. He had fully intended to make Mrs. Rushworth in love with him again, just to serve her right for being so cold. And he couldn't help but regret that her pride would remain victorious. There was an injustice in it that irked him. At the thought of Fanny's eyes, though -- he could see those eyes before him, gentle and trusting, and then hurt and disappointed. No, it was too great a risk. Her strict propriety must govern his actions, at least for a while. The conquering of Maria Rushworth must take second place to that.
He arrived at Mansfield Parsonage in good time, and did not omit to call at the Park, certain of a warm reception from Sir Thomas. The Bertrams were surprised, but placidly pleased to see him, and Sir Thomas invited him into the study without any hinting necessary. Though Mr. Crawford answered Sir Thomas's repeated questions after the rest of the family, he would not be swerved from the real purpose of his visit; which was tactfully but warmly to recommend that Fanny be fetched as soon as might be.
"My sister would have been glad to bring her to London, had I not left her without the resources to do so. You must understand my feelings, sir. I would not be impertinent to you, indeed I hesitate to mention it at all; but the anxiety I cannot help feeling at any threat to her health..." he let the sentence trail unfinished, and Sir Thomas caught him up at once.
"Certainly, I would not allow Fanny to put her health in danger, if I thought such a thing were possible; but perhaps you are too partial, Mr. Crawford. Your wish to protect her from harm is commendable and natural, given your feelings toward her, but perhaps you imagine harm where no harm is. I have heard no wish from Fanny herself, nor any ill report." Sir Thomas, it was easy to see, thought Mr. Crawford overstepped his bounds.
Mr. Crawford eagerly countered this by praising Fanny's humility in never complaining, describing her situation with passionate zeal, and concluding with a veiled admiration of Sir Thomas's generosity and Christian compassion. Such praise, from an avowed lover, Sir Thomas could not contradict. He had no inclination to deny any charms of Fanny's to her suitor, nor to disclaim the compliment to himself which seemed only justice. And really in this case there was no harm in giving way to all Mr. Crawford's suggestions, especially as the idea he mentioned had crossed Sir Thomas's own mind more than once. A little resistance was necessary for Sir Thomas's pride, but the two gentlemen parted in perfect harmony with each other, and each thinking equally well of the other's determination and virtue.
Thus Mr. Crawford won his way with a little art, which Fanny would have been ashamed to practice. His end was good, and his means had no real bad in them. He mostly spoke with sincerity, and if he exaggerated just a little, who could blame him?
Posted on 2008-07-08
Fanny, sitting in her room with Susan, waited for the post with a determination to expect disappointment again, but agitated by an irrepressible hope for joy all the same. The date of Edmund's arrival in London had burned before her inner eye for the past many weeks; and her longing to be at Mansfield, at certain moments of the day, seemed to increase a hundredfold. This yearning filled her heart the most just as she knew the post would come, and although she tried to squash it firmly, she could never quite rid herself of the idea "perhaps today they will ask for me."
There was a general shout from downstairs at the arrival of the post, and their father's voice could be heard bellowing her name. Fanny met Susan's eyes, and they went down the stairs together. Susan could not understand what made Fanny so anxious, but she could offer support; and Fanny was grateful to be able to clutch her hand as they entered the little parlor.
Mr. Price half-tossed a letter at his daughters as they entered the room; Fanny caught it with trembling fingers, but it slipped from her grasp and fell to the floor. She stooped for it, and rising, turned it over: it was addressed in strong black writing, Sir Thomas's hand unmistakably.
Her heart beating hard, Fanny would have slipped away to read her letter in quiet upstairs, but her father stopped her before she could turn away.
"From your uncle, is it, girl?" Mr. Price guessed shrewdly -- of course, he had examined the letter well before he gave it to Fanny. "Well, open it then."
In her nervousness she could hardly break the seal. Susan helped her, their fingers tangling over it. It was not much more than a brief note, courteously but not affectionately worded, requesting that Fanny prepare herself for a return, as Edmund would fetch her at the end of the week on his way back to Mansfield.
Susan's quicker eyes overtook Fanny's as she peered over her shoulder.
Fanny caught up to Susan's pointing finger.
"Fanny! I am to come with you! Don't you see? He's invited me!"
"Oh Susan!" she returned in equal ecstasy, then quickly added, "If father and mother agree." In spite of all evidence to the contrary she persisted in attributing as tender feelings as her own to everyone around her, and it would have pained her to think her father and mother knew how anxious she was to leave them.
But Fanny might have spared herself the worry. Her father merely roared, in great amusement, that if Sir Thomas wanted two useless females instead of one, he was welcome to them; and her mother had not a tear to spare for her oldest daughters. Against Betsy's squirming shoulder, she bid them to carry her best wishes to Aunt Bertram. That was all. Fanny and Susan were left to rejoice in sisterly harmony on the stairs as they returned to their room.
Susan could not keep still; she danced around the room while pulling dresses from the closet and wondering aloud which day Edmund would come. Fanny, silent in her happiness, followed behind her, folding neatly what Susan dropped.
"Fanny, do you think he might come on Thursday? Perhaps he may be early. We ought to be prepared. Do you think my Aunt Bertram will like this dress? Oh, but you must help me, Fanny. I shall be so petrified to face Aunt Norris! William says she is a dragon!"
"Now Susan," remonstrated Fanny automatically.
"Don't be prim, Fanny. William says you think just the same, although you are trying to set me a good example, I know. Oh Fanny!" grasping Fanny's hands in a happy twirl. "By Saturday at the very latest I shall be at Mansfield!"
"Yes. At Mansfield," Fanny echoed. And silently her thoughts repeated too, "he might come on Thursday. Soon I will see him."
She had not time to reflect much until late that night, for Susan was too excited to sleep quickly, and her first thrill worn off, she had a great many questions that required thoughtful answers from Fanny. Finally Susan fell silent, and in the stillness, listening to her sister's breathing, Fanny thought of Edmund, trying to calm her heart as she rested her body. But she could not suppress her joy at the idea of his coming. She would not dwell on the fact that Edmund left Miss Crawford to come to her, and that his feelings on the occasion might not be as unalloyed as hers. She could not wish for a happier hour than the one that would take her back to Mansfield, and in his company.
Edmund arrived exactly as planned, on Friday. Fanny's trunk had been packed for days in mere anticipation, and Susan's had been unpacked and repacked at least three times a day for an equal period of time. Though they assured each other that it must be hours yet before Edmund could possibly arrive, the number of times they said it did not exactly encourage serenity in either.
Fanny had actually opened her mouth to remind Susan that it was still early when she heard a step in the hall; she rose hastily, but before she reached the door, it opened and Edmund entered. She had not even time to look at him; he was drawing her close into a cousinly embrace that dazzled her senses. She was conscious only of warmth, and then chill as he let her go. She hardly knew how to stand, and walked across the room and back to the table without taking in any sensation at all, either the daylight on her face or the soft cadence of her mother's weary voice.
"My dear aunt! Cousin Susan," Edmund exclaimed, and looking up, Fanny caught the most joyful smile shed over them all, even Betsy -- who looked suspiciously at him, as if she distrusted any appearance of happiness. "I hope you are ready, dear Susan," continued Edmund. "I know you are leaving your home for the first time, but I look forward to becoming better acquainted with another cousin on this visit. You could not forget Portsmouth, of course, but you must think of Mansfield as another home just as dear as the first; so you will not be homesick at all if we can help it. Fanny will prevent any repining -- will you not, Fanny? She will share her love for Mansfield with you, for that is a boundless fund that cannot be diminished by dividing."
Such jaunty, almost teasing volubility was not like Edmund, and the energy of his voice rang a note she had never heard before. Her senses cleared, Fanny understood all too quickly, her powers of observation keen despite the pleading of her wrenched heart. This warmth was not for her. It belonged to another. This was Edmund in love and triumphant, not as she had scarcely dared to hope, but as she had feared to imagine. No need to wonder what he would look like as a successful lover -- this was it before her, mercilessly piercing in the brilliance of his happiness. Fanny knew at once that before he left London he had asked Mary Crawford to marry him.
But there was no time for Fanny to recover in private. The trunks were brought down and loaded quickly in spite of a little too much help from everybody. Susan kissed her mother goodbye, crying and laughing at once, and they were off, the boys racing after the coach with loud yelps until it turned the corner.
Edmund could not speak before Susan, but he looked his joy to Fanny every mile of the way to Mansfield. And little as she wished to, Fanny kept meeting his eyes. She tried to speak to Susan as much as possible, to explain the joy Susan ought to feel at each stage, to point out the changing landscape, the familiar landmarks as they drew closer. In desperation and dread of his speaking looks, she even drew Edmund into the conversation, asking his opinion of the spring weather and soliciting his memories to recount for Susan. But Edmund, though willing to contribute to Susan's entertainment, was too full to bursting of his own news to be completely distracted. All Fanny could do was keep talking to Susan and keep her eyes on the window.
Fanny expected she could escape any confidence with him at least for the evening, but even as they drew up and Susan sprang out in great excitement, he caught Fanny's hand with a low murmur, "Fanny, I must speak with you, soon." She could not wonder. To whom would he impart such rejoicing if not to his friend and cousin? Only she could not help at the same time reflecting bitterly that the very dearness of their friendship, so long cherished, had become nothing but a curse and a burden to her.
A little comfort, a very little, did Fanny draw from her Aunt Bertram's embrace, warm and actually eager. Her aunt had come out the door and almost down the steps to meet them. Her greeting to Susan, too, was flattering, everything Fanny could have wished, and she hoped Susan's delight would make up for her own depressed spirits.
The evening passed in the serene, contented harmony with which Mansfield always celebrated a happy event, even the return of two prodigals. Aunt Norris had not much to say beyond praising Sir Thomas assiduously for his generosity to Susan; even she could not invent any errands for her unworthy nieces that could have any weight on such a night, although she did quiz Fanny about her family. Lady Bertram repeated several times "I am glad you are back, Fanny" as she subsided from her unusual outburst of enthusiasm at the door. Sir Thomas kindly asked Susan several questions about the journey, which she answered more boldly than Fanny would have; but Fanny could see that Susan's ready quickness suited Sir Thomas much better than her own timidity. This did not make Fanny unhappy; she was proud of Susan at every turn: proud of her neatly brushed hair, proud of how easily she modulated her voice to a Mansfield gentleness, proud of her respectful attention to Sir Thomas. She felt that Susan's first evening at Mansfield was a great success.
But as for herself, it was terrible to Fanny that she could not enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of Mansfield as she ought, as she had expected to. She felt the difference from Portsmouth, and was grateful, but it was all under the shadow of Edmund's news, which she must hear tomorrow.
Fanny and Susan were pressed to go to bed early, and both agreed readily, each for her own reasons. Fanny could feel Edmund's eye on her; and Susan, though excited by new sensations and experiences, had tired more than she at first realized.
Susan was to have her own room next to Fanny's, but as they went up the stairs she leaned to whisper in Fanny's ear, "Can't I share with you tonight, Fanny? Just for tonight? I'm afraid I'll be lonely -- everything seems so big!" As this was exactly what Fanny vividly remembered from her first days at Mansfield, she was immediately sympathetic. And for some reason Fanny herself felt a certain reluctance to be left alone.
Worn out as she was, Susan's mind was still stimulated enough to keep her awake for a good hour, whispering to Fanny of all her impressions and hopes. Tonight Fanny welcomed the distraction. The heart that had been full of seeing Edmund soon, now shrank from the very thought of him
Posted on 2008-07-15
Fanny could not keep avoiding Edmund all day, after he had particularly requested to speak to her. Though managing to put off their conversation half the morning, her good sense reminded her that the longer she waited, the more pain she inflicted on both herself and him. With the idea of pleasing him and putting an end to her own torture, she went out to walk in the shrubbery before dinner, taking care that he should know her intention. As she had expected, he followed her at once. She only had time for a deep breath and a quick resolution to be perfectly calm.
"Thank you," he said, pressing her hand. "I am sure you must have seen how desperately I longed for an opportunity to talk with you. I am near bursting with my news, Fanny. I only want to share it with you to be completely happy."
"I hope you know I am always glad to share in your happiness, Edmund; and I have missed our talks," was her quiet reply, which was true as far as it went.
"Fanny." he stopped their walk as if to emphasize the momentous importance of his words. "I am loved -- I am accepted. Such a return to my feelings as I hardly imagined! She -- Miss Crawford -- Mary -- loves me, enough to take me as I am. And you know, Fanny, I have little to offer her indeed. A clergyman's wife! I think she never imagined herself in such a position. But all that is forgotten, in her generosity, her perfect charity!"
Fanny thought that Edmund's generosity was more to be admired than hers, in knowingly marrying a woman who completely disapproved of his profession and was likely to complain of his lack of fortune. But then, she must not think such things anymore. The moment had come. She had made a little effort to like Miss Crawford before, but now it was time to like her whether she would or no. The motivations of duty, rather than gratitude, must bear a result.
She saw that Edmund waited, more and more anxiously, for her to say something. Her silence must not be prolonged.
She spoke. "I am not surprised, Edmund. I guessed what your news would be. But I am --" she struggled a moment, and continued softly but without a falter, "very pleased for you that in the end, it is love that has the upper hand, and no worldly consideration. I think the better of her for it."
He clasped her hand, wordlessly for a moment; but only a moment, for like all lovers he must talk. "You are prejudiced, of course," he said, laughing, then adding more seriously, "It is such a relief to my feelings to talk with you, Fanny. I have not even told my father yet, but I could not conceal anything from you; I never have, you know."
"I know," she said, surprised herself that she could reply so calmly. Her own words sounded chilly to her, but he did not notice anything amiss, it seemed. "How long does Miss Crawford stay in town?"
"She comes back in another fortnight. It cannot be too soon for me. It is not just that I am miserable without her, Fanny. I think she grows weary of London. The people there, her friends, are not the sort of company she would be used to here: no intelligent or serious conversation at all."
The discerning taste Edmund attributed to his beloved was truer of his wishes than her real character, Fanny caught herself thinking -- but again, she must learn to approve rather than criticize. If her good hopes and expectations for the future could of themselves make Mary Crawford a worthy wife for Edmund, she would soon be perfection itself. Thus Fanny resolved; and her resolution impelled her to say, "I think she has learnt to love Mansfield."
"And its people!" said Edmund eagerly, then, flushing, "No, you needn't smile Fanny, I didn't mean myself. I think Mary misses you, too. Since you are to be cousins, you must love each other even more than before. You know it always made me happy that the two of you should be good friends. I think you each influence the other for the better -- your gentleness and her high spirits."
Fanny had no real reply to this, so she steeled herself and asked, "When is the wedding to be?"
"Not long," was Edmund's cheerful reply. "We have no reason to delay, if my father agrees. Everything conspires to make my happiness, Fanny. She does not wish a long engagement either. We know our own minds."
They continued walking for nearly hour, for Edmund could not find an end to praising his Mary and explaining his future plans in detail: how he would ready everything at Thornton Lacey, not forgetting to clear space for her harp; how they would take a wedding trip, perhaps to the lakes, perhaps even to Ireland; all that he would do to make Mary happy and entertained in his small house, how he would add to his library; and much, much more.
When she at last escaped and went into the house, Fanny had to sit with her Aunt Bertram until dinner. And then at table Edmund must make his announcement to everybody, and she had to listen to the general approbation of his choice. Sir Thomas was extremely pleased. He had always liked the Crawfords, and he did not forget to think that this marriage should bring Fanny and Mr. Crawford closer together. Lady Bertram thought everyone should be married, if they could manage it without giving her any trouble, and Susan thought a wedding would be enormously entertaining.
It was not until after dinner that Fanny could go upstairs to her beloved East Room and shut the door, and sit down by the fire to have her cry. She drew up her stool, pulled her shawl round her shoulders, and stared at the flames; and to her own surprise no tears, no agony, no passion followed. She had been swamped in misery half the morning and all through dinner, and yet she could sit very calmly and think, "he is now lost forever." Sad and wretched as her feelings were, the relief of dread and uncertainty for the moment almost outweighed grief. She gazed stupidly into the white heat of the coals, and after some time she picked up a book that was lying on the table and read until bedtime. She went to bed without stopping to pore over her grief; her mind dull and heavy, she let her eyes close to sleep.
The next day was Sunday. Fanny continued through the morning in such a stupor that she lacked even the energy to reproach herself for her inattention to Dr. Grant's sermon. After church she went up to her room to change her dress, trailing her hand idly along the banister. She took such a time in fact, that Mrs. Norris came after her to scold her into good spirits. That lady had so many virtuous and improving ideas that she would have been deeply mortified if she knew that Fanny had not heard a word of her wise lecture.
In Lady Bertram's sitting room Fanny found Susan in her own usual spot, next to the couch sorting embroidery threads, which was rather a shock and almost succeeded in startling her out of her dull misery. Feeling oddly uneasy, Fanny walked across the room a few times, and at last wandered down to the library to get a book. The library being empty, she gave in to temptation and stayed there, curling herself up in her uncle's big leather chair near the window. An hour passed, perhaps two hours.
Through the library door she heard at last Mrs. Norris's voice calling her name.
"Fanny! Where have you hidden yourself, sly girl? Come out at once!"
Fanny shrunk back between the sheltering arms of the chair for a moment. But of course, the few minutes of quiet she would gain by staying would not be worth the price she would pay in lectures and harassment. She got up, set the book on the side table and pushed open the door.
It was not as bad as it might be. Mrs. Norris had only a limited range of demands that could be asked on a Sunday. But she had forgotten the bottle of cordial she had promised Sister Bertram, and she had so depended on having it today. Surely it would be but a moment for Fanny to step off down to her house and get it. She thought reading all day was the most unhealthy pursuit in the world, indeed she wondered at Fanny! Why, Fanny looked positively ill. Mrs. Norris prescribed a walk, and if she were going to walk, it would be so convenient if she would go to the White House on her way.
Fanny did not like being forced into exertion, as she felt a dull headache coming on. But a solitary walk might do her good after all. Being sent off alone was preferable to sitting in Mrs. Norris's company doing plain work -- or anything in Mrs. Norris's company, really.
Even alone in the cool air, she found it impossible to think. The errand done, she was returning up through the park when the idle thought occurred that it would be a lovely day to ride. All at once she thought of Edmund getting the horse for her. And then all the memories of his dear kindnesses came over her and her eyes were so full of tears she could not see the way ahead of her. She turned into the arbor, dropped onto a bench, and wept her heart out for half an hour. Then it was necessary to sit an equal time with tears coming doggedly into her eyes and blinked away again, until she felt that her red and swollen face had recovered enough to be seen. She said very firmly to herself, "This is the last time." before she got up and went into the house.
She returned just in time for tea, and Lady Bertram looked round for her fretfully on her entrance. Small comfort as it was to be wanted, and to sit in her accustomed corner near her aunt's sofa, she did not have it long. Her headache had returned -- no wonder after all her weeping -- and she was forced to go to bed early
Posted on 2008-07-22
Fanny looked so very wretched at breakfast that even Sir Thomas noticed.
"What is the matter, Fanny?" he inquired, peering at her.
"I do feel tired," she said, which was true, because she had not slept well.
"You are not unhappy?"
"Oh, sir! I am so happy to be back at Mansfield, and I have Susan here too, thanks to your kindness. I am sure it is just fatigue and will pass."
"Well, if it does not I shall call Sprague and have his opinion. In the meantime, be sure to take your ride and do not tire yourself."
Fanny had a horror of being examined. But since she could not say "it is only a broken heart occasioned by the engagement of your son Edmund" she had to agree meekly and determine inwardly to appear better by sheer force of will if necessary.
Sir Thomas had not done, however. "Fanny -- that is an order, my dear. You will rest, and ride every day. As glad as we are to have you back among us, it would extremely foolish to allow you to endanger your health running errands here and there, before you are strong enough. I know you well enough, I hope, to trust you to obey my wishes in this, when you know that my motives are only affection for you."
"Yes -- thank you, uncle," said Fanny, her eyes filling helplessly though she tried to resist her own weakness.
But in spite of the clear air of Mansfield, such a change from Portsmouth, Fanny was not quick to recover as Sir Thomas would have expected. He began to fear what Henry Crawford would say if he were to return and see Fanny like this. She took her rides faithfully every day and gradually a little strength returned to her, but she looked as pale and spiritless as ever; and she was not allowed to make herself useful as she loved to do, which might have helped to distract her.
In fact, everyone at Mansfield had settled back into contentment but Fanny. Since Fanny had been forbidden to exert herself, Susan now sat with Lady Bertram oftener than her sister did, and it appeared that her company was just as efficacious for Lady Bertram's comfort. Susan was eager to please and her merry spirits amused and entertained her aunt, who delighted to teach her ladylike propriety, the only subject in which she was fully qualified to instruct.
As for Edmund, his conversations were now peppered so liberally with "Mary" that Fanny could hardly endure his company for half an hour with composure. His impatience to see her grew each day that she stayed in London, and his only relief was confiding in Fanny.
He met Fanny in the garden one day, and she saw that he carried a letter in his hand.
"Mary has written again to put off her return," were his first words, uttered with such a look of melancholy, that Fanny had to restrain herself from speaking, lest she voice any of her private thoughts about Mary.
"What excuse does she offer?" asked Fanny when she could speak with moderation.
"I would let you see the letter but -- there are certain phrases -- things meant only for my eyes --" Edmund flushed as he spoke. "At any event, I cannot be angry, she is so tender; begs pardon so sweetly. But her friends have made it such a point, their last chance to have her before her marriage, she says. And she has so much to do ordering wedding clothes, she cannot possibly come before next week."
Fanny shook her head, but she knew it was no use to say anything. As it was, Edmund had seen the motion and replied too eagerly, "I know it must be selfish of me to want her back, in defiance of any other duty, but I cannot help it, Fanny."
"I do not think it selfish at all."
"You are so sympathetic, Fanny," said Edmund, touching her hand as he often did.
Fanny herself had received a letter from Mary not many days before, scrawled in haste and with the force of Mary's personality in every word.
"Being a woman, you cannot condemn me for prolonging my stay in town, Fanny," she had written. "I am lost in a delightful tumble of silks and bonnets and cannot possibly tear myself away before I have decided what color evening dress will look well in Edmund's drawing room. Besides, I am determined to enjoy myself before I must renounce the world forever. I am half-convinced that betrothal is the most pleasant state a woman can enjoy -- although of course I cannot say for sure, not having experienced marriage yet. But I have my suspicions, Fanny! I find myself the subject of more interest than ever in my life, and of course I am darkly mysterious when questioned about anything. Of course you cannot say any of this to Edmund -- he would not understand in the least, I daresay, but he is a man. Dearest of men, yes, but still a man. If he complains of my absence you must tell him that if he wants me he may come and fetch me."
Fanny threw down the letter in disgust and resolved to tell Edmund no such thing, though whenever he knew that she had any communication from Mary he begged her to divulge every detail. She was obliged to put him off by saying that it was all about Mary's wedding dress, which was only partly true.
But this letter helped Fanny, though she little suspected it. In anger at Mary, she found a distraction from grief. She decided it was useless to try to like Mary Crawford. Their characters were too greatly opposed. In fact, for the moment, Fanny could hardly even like Edmund; it was so unworthy of him to be taken in by Mary's meaningless charm. She could hardly believe that he would persist in such besotted blindness -- surely his sense, his reason, must protest; and yet he went on carrying Mary's letters about in his pockets and rereading them in corners. Fanny gave them both up for hopeless.
She began to look a little more herself now; spring had burst into warmth and it could not help but cheer her a little. She had been reading a great deal, up in the East Room, and as the weather grew warmer, out in the garden. Sometimes she walked restlessly there, longing for something to do. How often she had wished for time of her own; and later at Portsmouth, how she had longed for the peace of Mansfield. But time at her own disposal, and peace to enjoy it, did not really provide any joy at all with no one to share them and no hope to animate her days. It occurred to her one day as she sat in the window looking out over new planted fields bordered with shining clusters of early wildflowers, that she actually looked forward to Mary Crawford's return with something like desperation. It would be a change at least.
On the morning after Miss Crawford's arrival in Mansfield, Edmund made a very early call at the Parsonage, and he spent almost the whole morning there. After some hours, they walked into the morning room at the Park, Mary on Edmund's arm, to present themselves shining and smiling to all the Mansfield family. Congratulations having been given and received on all sides, Mary Crawford went straight to Fanny and embraced her with great affection.
"Oh Fanny! You cannot imagine how I missed you! We must find some corner to hide ourselves away and talk," drawing Fanny over to a sofa in the nook. Half-hidden from the others, she squeezed Fanny tight again, repeating "Oh how happy I am" about a dozen times.
"I am very glad to see you," was Fanny's rather stiff reply, and she told herself she was glad, really, to have Mary here at last. Just these first moments would be painful, but better to accustom herself to it as quickly as possible, so the hurt would begin to dull.
Mary laughed at her. "Fanny, you are as calm as ever, but I know your heart, hide it as you will." (Fanny trembled at the very idea.) "You must let me run on a little, sensible as you are. I have not had a real, satisfying conversation with anyone for goodness knows how many weeks. Not one of my friends can understand what I have done in accepting Edmund. They think I am mad. I've thrown away fortunes and doomed myself to a life of country boredom. Oh, don't look like that, I know it is dreadful. But you understand: you with your ideals will approve a love match. There, I still blush when I confess it."
"I thought you were enjoying yourself in town," ventured Fanny.
"I could not help enjoying myself, Fanny -- you know that. It is not in my character to be dismal at a ball."
Fanny saw that any attempt at a reproach would be wasting her breath; and Miss Crawford had changed the subject already.
"Fanny, dear, I have not had a chance to ask you yet, but I know you will not refuse. You must be my bridesmaid."
Not having expected such an invitation, Fanny hesitated and stuttered in her reply. "She would be -- if Miss Crawford were sure -- an honor -- "
"No, no, do not be surprised. I would have no one but you. But Fanny! 'Miss Crawford'? Is that how you address a cousin?"
Fanny was distressed, but her composure recovered, she said as warmly as she could contrive, "I know -- Mary, but I am such a creature of habit, I am always slow to change. I hope you will not be offended if I forget, for I intend no coldness toward you. You must know I could intend no such thing."
This answer pleased, and they must go on to talk much more about the wedding. That is, of course, Mary talked and Fanny listened. But as the conversation went on Fanny thought she grew stronger and stronger, and she even asked some questions on topics of great interest, such as the fabric of Mary's wedding dress and what her new bonnets looked like. Perhaps she had become dull to the pain, or perhaps talking about practical details did not hurt as much as the very idea itself.
Fanny's new strength carried her through the evening, and her fortitude was required, as Miss Crawford stayed to dinner and the Grants came up to tea. Many speeches were given in celebration of their upcoming connection, by Mr. Grant and Sir Thomas. Mrs. Norris had many ingratiating comments to make too: praises both of Sir Thomas and herself. She could hardly speak highly enough of her own obliging generosity in leaving the parsonage vacant for Grants and Crawfords.
After tea Mary played and sang, and Fanny had the unhappy privilege of watching Edmund unsuspected while he gazed at his beloved with all of his adoration unveiled in his eyes. Her heart sank, and the forced cheer that she had been sustaining by mere power of will failed her. He was captivated, ensnared -- caught by charm and liveliness and wit. Despite her resolution to be optimistic, Fanny feared for him. Edmund was infatuated; all knowledge of her flaws seemed melted away. She feared for them both. What would happen when the pedestal crumbled?
That evening, as Susan and Fanny went up to bed together and were saying goodnight, Susan put her arms around Fanny and said gently "You are sad, sister dear."
Fanny burst into tears.
"Oh Fanny," said Susan, as if she were comforting one of her little brothers on a scraped knee, "what's the matter? Don't cry, Fanny."
Fanny went on crying nonetheless, and she would say nothing, no matter how sweetly Susan pleaded. Fanny, the repository of many confidences, could not bring herself to make any of her own. She had never had a sister, really, and it had not occurred to her that Susan could comfort her as well as the other way around.
After some time, Fanny raised her head, feeling relieved, but ashamed. "I am so sorry," she choked; and Susan petted her and murmured to her. And then she was tucking Fanny into bed like a child and whispering her to go to sleep, which command Fanny obeyed at once, emptied of all passion and tired out with her own grief.
The wedding was to take place in the first week of June, and now the only thing left to disturb Fanny's settled mind, and add a sharp note of apprehension to her deadened sorrow, was the expectation of Henry Crawford's arrival at the end of the month
Posted on 2008-07-29
One morning Edmund found Fanny just after breakfast, cutting some columbines and lily-of-the-valley in the garden, and asked if she would walk to the Parsonage with him.
"Mary asked for you," he said. "I believe it is some matter she on which she wishes to consult with you, a subject on which I am supposed to be ignorant." His whole face glowed with delight at being kept in ignorance.
Fanny sighed, but said easily enough that she would be glad to walk with him if he would wait until she had taken her flowers in to her aunt, who had asked especially whether columbines were up yet. In twenty minutes they had started down the lane, and Edmund for once remained silent. His head turning first one way and then another, showed that he was enjoying, as much as Fanny did, the beauties of the glorious morning, the green everywhere and the fresh damp scents of spring.
Fanny felt for the moment so peaceful that after a while she remarked herself on the sunlight. "The spring sunlight is so much lighter and merrier than a summer sun, do not you think? In summer it beats and scorches and weighs on us so much more heavily, but this does not even quite warm through, it just touches with heat and brightness."
"Yes, I quite agree; very well said," was all his answer, but he said it heartily, and Fanny was content.
After a moment, he rejoined, "We have had so little conversation lately, Fanny. I have sometimes thought you silent and almost sad, but perhaps that is because I have so little chance to speak with you. I hope you are well. I wish for every person on earth to be happy at this moment."
Fanny was startled. She had not thought that he would observe so much. After a moment, she answered, "I am unsettled, cousin; there are so many changes going on at once that..."
She paused, and he took it up quickly, with satisfaction, "Yes, I understand you, so much bustle and busyness cannot be pleasant to a person of your temperament. I know your retiring habits, Fanny. But I hope you will be happy all the same, when all the unpleasant confusion has passed." Coloring, he added, "Perhaps after -- in a little while perhaps you will come to visit us. I know nothing would please Mary so much. How charming and sensible we would all be together!" Fortunately Edmund did not seem to need an answer to this. He appeared to be dwelling dreamily on the picture he had painted for himself.
They entered the Parsonage garden, and as they rounded the hedge and came in sight of the drawing room windows, the door flew open and Mary danced out. "What kept you so long? You've dawdled in the lane enjoying the morning, perhaps, and I forgive you, for you could have no idea. Guess who is here?" She took both their hands and drew them in.
Fanny's heart sank. It was not a difficult guess, and she felt with exasperation that her morning's peace was shattered.
Sure enough, as they entered the room a familiar dark, compact figure at the window turned to greet them, crossing the room to shake Edmund's hand heartily first, and then to take Fanny's. He did not quite kiss it, but he lifted it almost to his face, and Fanny felt an uncomfortable hot blush rise across her cheekbones. She could sense Edmund looking at her.
"Miss Price," said Mr. Crawford, and she heard his remembered voice, warm and vibrant. "I am so pleased to see you again, and even better, to see you looking so well. Mansfield agrees with you as nothing else."
"Thank you, Mr. Crawford, it does," she said. It was a long moment before she could look up at him, but he had turned and begun speaking to Edmund about his journey, and while he spoke her blush drained away and she felt safe again. He had that talent of making the whole party easy and good-humored together, she had to acknowledge. She had never understood it, but it was a talent which was hard to resist, all the same. He looked well, not handsome, for he never had been, but slightly brown, and glowing with well-being.
When they all sat down, he placed himself near her, but not so near as to make her more than usually uncomfortable. "We must speak, you know, Miss Price," he said, and when she looked up she saw his dark eyes laughing to her, with her. "We must speak before our companions fall silent just gazing at each other. Tell me, your sister Susan came with you, did she not? Is she well?"
Clever Mr. Crawford! She had no intention of being anything but coldly polite, but the subject of her sister could not but animate Fanny a little, and she replied more extensively than she otherwise might have. "Yes, thank you. She is here, thanks to our uncle Bertram's generosity, and it is so pleasant to have her as a companion. I would have been sorry to lose her when I left Portsmouth, just when I was getting to know her a little and find things to talk about and read together. But how did you know she was here, sir?"
At that he almost looked confused, and she saw him exchange a glance with his sister. "Why, Mary told me, of course," he said, and that seemed a natural enough explanation, but that he seemed to change color himself, and even Mary laughed at him.
He continued the conversation hurriedly. "And does Miss Susan love Mansfield as you do? Have you taught her your own adoration, how to value each stone and blade?"
"I cannot help but love Mansfield, for it is my home. It is still new to Susan, but I know that she will find it so when she has lived here longer," said Fanny, frowning a little at his teasing.
"I know it is your home, and I admire your devotion, Miss Price," he said repentantly, but still laughingly. "Do not think I mock you. But at the moment it must be exceedingly dull, with all everyone's attention on your cousin's marriage."
This observation was so near the truth that Fanny stumbled over her reply that "she wished to be of help in the preparations."
"But how do you spend your evenings? You must be sorely wearied with talk of wedding plans by evening, even you with your unshakeable patience. Perhaps you will allow me to entertain you all, since I cannot advise on the purchase of linens or the amount of china. We could read -- you like good reading, I think, Miss Price?"
Fanny was again embarrassed at having such an invitation directed at her personally. She said that she was sure her uncle and aunt would be happy to see Mr. Crawford at any time.
"Oh cold, Fanny!' began Mary, who had been listening to at least part of the conversation after all. But Edmund shook his head at her, and she left her reproach unfinished. Fanny was horribly uneasy, and would have taken her leave for the soothing sunshine again, had not the particular request for her presence made it impossible.
Her fears were somewhat allayed, however, when Mr. Crawford drew back, and spoke to Edmund again. He did not press her as she had dreaded, and she almost wondered if she had offended him -- a result much to be hoped for! Mary drew her away, however, and they left the gentlemen to their own conversation while they went upstairs to Mary's room.
It seemed the matter Mary could not decide had to do with her jewelry. She wanted to wear something her brother had given her, but not a necklace, for Edmund was giving her a very beautiful one as a wedding present. She had not seen it, so the dilemma of choosing earrings to go with it demanded the utmost of delicacy. Fanny stood patiently by while earring after earring was held up for her contemplation. But as she could not say what would look the best, it ended with Mary throwing herself on her bed with a sigh and despairing of ever making up her mind.
As promised, Henry Crawford came to dine at the Park that evening. He spent some time with Sir Thomas, but on their joining the ladies he at once applied to Fanny for a choice of reading matter. She felt that everyone was looking at her, and, halting again, she remembered in a flash of relief Mr. Crawford reading to them before, and suggested that everyone liked Shakespeare. But then, tragedy or comedy, which would suit better, was the next question. The decision crept agonizingly on for nearly a quarter of an hour. Sir Thomas, amused, would not interfere with Mr. Crawford's managing of Fanny, but at last Susan asked for a tragedy, and Lady Bertram, who knew no difference at all, suggested that the loveliest speeches were in that German play. After some more discussion, it was determined that she meant Danish, and therefore must be referring to Hamlet.
"An excellent idea, Lady Bertram," said Mr. Crawford energetically. "I perfectly agree that Hamlet's soliloquies are some of the finest to read or to hear."
The book was found, and he began. Once again, as before, Fanny succumbed little by little, try as she would to resist, to the charm of his voice. She at last could not help looking up at him. His head bent over the book, eyes shaded by his contracted brows, and his expressive face reflected the fear, anger, hopes, and loves of the various characters. Fanny could not take her eyes from him. At last in turning a page he happened to glance up at her; his eyes met hers with surprise and pleasure, and Fanny instantly bent to her work again.
Two scenes passed, the ghost appeared and disappeared, and it was pronounced a good beginning and enough for the night. He came to sit just across from Fanny, and addressed her just as she had feared.
"I had almost forgotten how much I like Hamlet. It is one of my favorite plays to read."
"Are they not all your favorites, Mr. Crawford?" asked Fanny dryly.
He laughed. "You are harsh upon me, Miss Price, but perhaps with truth. I really do like Hamlet, though. Who could resist such a beginning? You could not, I am sure. Do you think the ghost a real spirit?"
Fanny could not refuse to answer so direct a question, though she thought he was being flippant. "Of course I do not believe in ghosts, Mr. Crawford, but my opinion on them is not really important either to the story or to the appreciation of the rest of the play."
"I venture to disagree with you. Hamlet is such a fascinating character; I always wonder what he is really thinking. Do you think he believes in the ghost?"
"Why should he not? Such a vision, unsurpassed by anything in his experience, would it not carry conviction?" she replied, remembering only half-way through the sentence to keep her voice distant and uninterested.
"Perhaps he only looked for an excuse to hate his uncle. He's a scholar after all, our Hamlet -- would he really believe in phantoms?"
"But that is wicked!" exclaimed Fanny. She had never heard such an odd theory before. "If he did not really believe the ghost, then what justification could he find for his actions? We should surely condemn him instead of admiring him." But as she spoke, betrayed into a more unguarded enthusiasm by her interest in the subject, she looked up and saw Sir Thomas's eyes on her, and heard the silence of the rest of the room, and nothing Henry would say could convince her to carry the discussion any further
Posted on 2008-08-05
Much to Fanny's distress and dismay, it became an established practice for Henry Crawford to walk up to the Park almost every day. He often came to dine when Mary came as well, or when she did not, he called at teatime to stay for an hour or so -- to talk to Sir Thomas, and look at Fanny. Fanny remained steadfast with all the quiet stubborn determination that she could bring to bear, that she would not enter into friendly conversations with Mr. Crawford. Why, exactly, she did not attempt to fully explain even to herself; but she would not let it be said that he visited her. To be termed even friends with Henry Crawford was disgusting to her.
In this the contrivances of every person around her worked against her. They were all determined to promote at least a friendship. She was left alone with him constantly, or nearly alone, for Edmund and Mary, heads bent together as they murmured to each other, were not much in the way of chaperones.
Even Susan had turned against her. They were sitting in the East Room one afternoon, reading together.
"Why don't you like Mr. Crawford, Fanny?" Susan asked when Fanny had reached the end of a chapter and set the book down. Despite all her recently acquired refinement, Susan could still be terribly direct.
Fanny paused, wondering how much it would be prudent and honorable to reveal. She did not question Susan's powers of observation any more.
"He's not a principled man," Fanny said at last. She had a premonition that such a statement would not satisfy her sharp sister.
Susan's eyes narrowed. "How do you know that?"
"I saw it for myself, Susan. The way he behaved to my cousins Maria and Julia before her marriage was very -- I can only say it was very foolish and very selfish, and even more so when Maria was already engaged. It was not that anything was said outright, but I could never trust a man who flatters so insincerely, and I believe calculatingly, for his own entertainment; who has no respect or compassion."
Susan puzzled over this cryptic statement for a moment. "They both liked him?" she guessed wisely.
Fanny said nothing, because she would not discuss her cousins' behavior in detail behind their backs, but this apparently was answer enough for Susan. She fell silent again, and Fanny, chin on her hand, looked into the fire, whose heat was still welcome in the chill of early summer evenings.
"Then he did wrong, but was not cousin Maria also to blame?" was the result of Susan's meditations.
Fanny could not argue with this, without explaining more than she felt herself qualified to do.
"I think he is sorry for it now," pronounced Susan decidedly.
"He is not a serious person," said Fanny. "He treats weighty subjects lightly and laughs at grave matters -- he has no reverence for what he should."
"I like him when he laughs," retorted Susan, unreasonably. "Perhaps he is only serious in his heart. Now, don't look at me like that, Fanny. I don't mean I like him that way. I just meant he is nice."
Such praise could not be argued with. Fanny changed the subject.
Henry Crawford came for tea that evening, and to read their portion of Shakespeare. Fanny was angry enough at him for making her sister like him, that she refused to listen lest she unwillingly betray her appreciation of his beautiful voice, flexible tone, and precise enunciation. She bent over her needlework, thinking hard about Maria, and Julia, and now Susan; and shutting her ears to one of her favorite soliloquies.
After the reading had ended, Sir Thomas went away to his study, and Lady Bertram wandered up to her room, with Susan following to pick up her dropped handkerchiefs behind her. Edmund had bought Mary some new music, that had arrived in a parcel that afternoon, so they went to the pianoforte to try it; though Mary demurred the whole time that it would not sound as beautiful as the harp. Fanny watched them sit down together on the bench, which necessitated squeezing very close. She thought Edmund had his arm around her waist. They would be oblivious to the world for the rest of the evening, Fanny knew, and as Henry Crawford sat down in the chair next to her, she was trapped here with them.
"I am curious to know what you think of Ophelia," he began, and Fanny steeled herself. He had not tried discussing the reading with her often, but it was the opening most designed to tempt and interest her, though perhaps he did not realize it. She would never have admitted it to herself, but his way of thinking about the characters and their motivations always made her consider the familiar words in a new way. If he were not such an unpleasant -- well, immoral -- person, she would have been glad to talk with him about literature. She had never had anyone to discuss ideas with but Edmund; and he was quite occupied at the moment.
As he was waiting for a reply, it occurred to her that if he would talk, she would not have to answer. "What do you think of her, sir?" she returned.
It seemed that her clever ploy had worked; he leaned back in his chair and stretched out his legs. "Well then, Fa-Miss Price, I think a number of things about her. What exactly were her relations with Hamlet, I wonder? And shall we condemn her for making away with herself, or can she be excused because of insanity? You have more religious learning than I; is Ophelia to be pitied?"
"I am no spiritual authority, Mr. Crawford! Excuse me, but you must not ask me such questions."
"If you say so; but you must still have an opinion on Ophelia, and I want to hear it. What drove her mad? I think perhaps her mind had never had any strength. You see that in how easily she gives in to the coercing of others."
Fanny said nothing, as he had asked no direct question this time.
"She is inferior to you in that respect, I must say. You would never give in if you believed yourself in the right, would you?"
She blushed, but before she could find an appropriate reply that would keep his personal remarks at bay, he continued.
"As a person of great strength, then, what do you say to Ophelia? You think and read a great deal; you must have some idea about her."
He would persist in provoking her despite the most discouragement she could give! Fanny felt deeply annoyed, as only a reserved person can be annoyed at the careless rough jostling of the talkative.
"I wish you would not press me, Mr. Crawford. I like to hear some of the speeches read; that is all."
For his part he clearly took Fanny's reluctance for deliberate coldness, and he tried again to pierce it. "But you are a woman; perhaps you take a different view of Ophelia's character than I can. I am eager to be taught, Miss Price."
As a matter of fact Fanny did agree, mostly, but she could not help thinking Mr. Crawford a bit harsh on poor Ophelia, and overly praising to herself. She had a secret sympathy with Ophelia, but she could not talk about it to him.
Wearily she tried once more to dissuade him. "I would not venture to disagree, sir. You have studied, and I -- "
"And you have an intelligent, discerning mind, Miss Price, which you insist on keeping locked up!" he cried in frustration. "You refuse the most innocent and edifying discussion on any subject. What could be more congenial than to talk about books together? But with you, no. Heaven forbid that you should express an opinion to me!"
Fanny shrank from the passion of his outburst. She would not reply, for what could she say? If she protested, he would only take it as encouragement to press her for discussion.
"I am ready to give up," he said. Her sharp movement did not escape his notice, and he sighed. "And I know you wish me to give up. You have no mercy. If I did not know you better, I would think you an unfeeling, unthinking creature. Made of solid granite you look, sitting there."
"Perhaps you do not know me at all!" retorted Fanny, at last.
"And if I do not, it is not my fault, for you will not let me. You will not help me to understand you better in the slightest."
Fanny knew this was perfectly true, but she could not wish it otherwise, so she said nothing.
Mr. Crawford got up, crossed to the fire and then to the window. He drew back the drape a little and put his finger gently in the pattern of frost there.
"Why is it that you refuse to speak even commonplaces to me? I suspect that even if I remarked on the weather you would turn away from me. What keeps you so steadfast against me?" He paused, then burst out again, "I have spoken no word -- hinted nothing of any feeling besides friendship. My expectations have been fair. I have demanded nothing, only asked for ordinary courtesy."
Fanny sat still, her jaw clenched to keep from trembling. Her silence now arose not from anger, but something else she herself could not identify.
"Is it fear, Fanny? Do you fear me still, after all I have done to show my sincerity? You do me an injustice. Your doubts are unjustified and cruel."
He crossed the room behind her, and stopped.
"Do not be so afraid to trust me," he said, low, bending over her shoulder to speak almost in her ear. "You are constantly afraid to venture anything. You live in fear, you whose goodness and faith should give you hope and peace."
Fanny was offended, enough to reply with unaccustomed sharpness. "You speak too freely, sir. You assume too much. I have no wish to discuss my religion with you -- it is none of your business, and neither is anything I choose to do or not do. If you really cared about me as you profess to do, you would see how much you pain me with your constant pressing and teasing. I wish you would go away."
He drew back silently, and Fanny almost thought that his eyes glistened. In anyone else, she would have suspected tears. She had hurt him, and search herself as she would, she could not find the slightest regret. Let him be hurt then, Mr. Crawford of the blind confidence. He had often enough trampled over her. Fair enough that he should feel it in return.
But remorse with Fanny, as always, tackled her almost before vindictive dislike could have its moment of triumph. Even before Mr. Crawford had gone away after an uncomfortable silence, she felt the first twinges of conscience. Though she resisted with all her might, the habitual harsh honesty of her soul, combined with the uncertainty and guilt imposed by her upbringing, overcame her. The guilt attacked first with her most feared weapon: ingratitude. Only second, more subtly, slipping between her weakened defenses, came the thought, "Can he be right?"
I am afraid, was the accusation of her conscience. I fear even where I should trust, I cling where I should step with confidence.
It is no sin to doubt an uncertain world, she argued.
But inexorably the reply came, It is sin when I doubt providence. It is when I doubt those who have constantly shown me devotion and love, when I am afraid to show what I think or even to be myself.
Even to Henry Crawford? Once she had most justly feared the obvious unsteadiness of his character. But after so long and determined a demonstration of his purpose in changing, at what point would her continued distrust become ungracious and unfair? Was her persistent dislike now understandable, or had she sunk to mere prejudice
Posted on 2008-08-12
The next morning Fanny woke in an unsettled mood, after a light and restless sleep. She took very little breakfast, though she sat staring unseeing at her plate for long enough to draw a comment from Mrs. Norris, who wondered if she intended to waste the perfectly good food provided her.
Fanny had debated with herself until she no longer knew who was in the right, Mr. Crawford or herself. And now she was too weary to be angry with him. She had not the energy to sustain a quarrel, or to bear the questions and reproaches that such a quarrel would provoke in others. He had already unsettled her and disturbed her rest far too often.
At the same time she felt inconsistently that she could not bear for him to hate her. She might dislike him, but she could not be content with being disliked herself. She had already lost too much to scorn the opinion of others. And whether he knew it or not, he had touched on the truth. He had said it inconsiderately and impertinently, but it was true that she had allowed fear and despair to overcome her, too often.
Though she would not admit it, it was with the hope of meeting Mr. Crawford that she decided to take a walk after breakfast, in the direction of the Parsonage.
She walked quickly, with her head down, watching the gravel under her feet; and thus she nearly walked into the subject of her quest just outside the Parsonage garden.
"Miss Price!" he said, with a formal intonation, and without any sign of slipping to "Fanny" as he often did.
"Mr. Crawford! I was hoping to meet you. I wanted to speak to you -- " and for a moment, her desire attained, she groped wildly for what it was she had so eagerly wanted to say. Her hand, even, had moved of itself as if reaching out for something, and she found it unexpectedly enclosed in his.
"Yes?" he said, and the whole pitch of his voice had changed, as she heard without looking at him.
"I wished to say -- " Fanny stopped for a breath and to consider; but then she was hesitating in fear -- just what she had determined not to do. She began again and everything spoke itself: it seemed to be his effect on her. "I am very sorry, Mr. Crawford, for the way I spoke to you yesterday evening. Perhaps I have been unjust. I think there was truth in what you said -- I do hesitate and doubt too much. I must try to be more open, more confident; I have reasons enough, in my family, in my -- my friends, to be hopeful instead of desponding, as I know very well. I hope you will forgive me, Mr. Crawford." Though she had meant to speak confidently, there was more feeling trembling in her voice than she had intended.
A long silence followed her declaration. "I can have nothing to forgive," he said at last, still in that deep tone. "I know very well that I said far too much last night myself. I was expecting to work very hard to repair the damage I had done, and instead you come to me, with all the generosity and compassion that I so lo-- that I so admire in you. I acknowledge that I did despair, last night, that you completely despised me."
"I never -- " she protested hastily, and then, compelled by her sense of integrity to be completely truthful, "I do not now despise you, sir. I cannot despise your kindness to me, though I do not always understand you."
As she spoke with greater calmness than before, she realized that he still held her hand, and she could not pull it away yet. It would be too mean, after all she had said. But she was embarrassed, and she could not help an anxious glance at the Parsonage windows. He saw her look, with a quickness of comprehension she had increasingly noticed of late, and let her go. But his voice, as he spoke, made up for the missing touch with its warmth.
"Ah, you did despise me once, then. Don't look confused. I can guess what you mean, now that I am beginning to understand you better. You despised me last fall, when we had the play, I think."
She was a little shocked at his audacity in referring to it, but at the same time encouraged by this evidence of his sensibility.
"Go on, Fanny. Accuse me, reprove me, tell me the truth."
"That, sir, is not my place to do."
"But it will be better to have it said. I would rather know exactly what you think of me. You have said you will be unafraid: now do not hesitate."
"If you must know my opinion, I cannot deny that then you did very wrong, Mr. Crawford. You didn't think, perhaps, how much harm you did. You were amusing yourself and you did not see how seriously your actions would be taken. But that makes it all the worse: harm was done, and you did not even stop to regard it." She spoke with her usual softness, but with more than usual vehemence. She had been troubled by this for so long, that she could not forebear speaking plainly, though she knew that by admitting any influence over his behavior, she accepted a greater intimacy with him than even the intimacy she had been resisting all along.
He looked, for once in his life, grave and almost uncomfortable, but after a moment he said quietly, "I should hear it all. What did I do, exactly? Let me have all the lecture I deserve."
She flushed hotly, and shook her head. "You... you encouraged my cousins to feel -- it may be Julia was not your fault, but you let her think things that -- and Maria was engaged! You prepared a very bad foundation for her marriage. You think Mr. Rushworth did not notice, but he did, I know."
Mr. Crawford was silent. Fanny did not dare to look up at him, but after a pause she added, "It was dishonorable, very dishonorable, but what is worst of all, I cannot think you did not know what you were doing. You may not have understood all the effects of your actions, but you should have known it was wrong, and you did it anyway, for your own pleasure."
"I was selfish," he agreed, seriously, and so low she almost stepped closer to hear him better. "And I have done many selfish acts besides, some worse than that, some that you cannot know. In fact, where I have done the most good I have often been most motivated by selfish desires."
Fanny had always struggled the most to express anything she felt very deeply: she resorted to generalities, but every word was spoken with the most intense earnestness. "It does not exactly excuse you, but -- perhaps it is human nature to be selfish, Mr. Crawford. No one can claim to be perfectly unselfish, not even when they seem to act from the purest of principles. And even -- people who appear the most virtuous often do so to please others out of a wish to be loved, instead of pleasing God because He is good."
It was a bit incoherent, but he did not look confused. His only reply was to say softly, "Let me take you in to my sister. She had been hoping to see you this morning." He offered his arm, and Fanny took it without the slightest reluctance.
When they entered the Parsonage, they found Mary sitting with her back to the window, but she gave them a sly glance. "Don't you both look friendly this morning! Arm in arm, indeed. I am ready to faint with surprise."
Fanny's serenity vanished at once. These kind of remarks had certainly the power to intimidate her, despite her resolution to be fearless. And it was just what she had most dreaded if she admitted the smallest sign of warmth to Mr. Crawford. He may not have demanded anything of her recently, but she could not forget that everyone knew he wanted to marry her. To her relief, she heard him speaking quite carelessly.
"Mary, I am desolated that you think me so devoid of common politeness. I know you would believe any ill of me, your own brother, but this is too much! To be ready to faint at my offering a lady my arm!"
"I would believe any ill of you until I see you walking in the door in perfect harmony with Fanny Price. Now I am ready to proclaim you a prince of all goodness and charm."
"You are ridiculous, Mary," he retorted. "Miss Price, if she talks nothing but nonsense, I would walk back up to the Park. It is impossible to have a rational conversation with a madwoman."
Fanny was not entirely relieved of her embarrassment, but she felt able to meet Mary's sparkling eyes, and that was somethingContinued In Next Section