July 24, 2008
(This picks up at the scene where Fanny has told Henry she can not marry him and he storms from the Price home in anger.)
"Mr. Crawford," Fanny called.
He ignored her and continued walking away from her.
Fanny took a couple of steps towards him. "Mr. Crawford!"
Still he did not respond. He struck a cart with the flowers in his hand as he passed.
She quickly took a few more steps. "Henry," she called.
He stopped but did not turn around. She had never called him by his Christian name. She had always addressed him formally.
Slowly she walked towards him. She could see that he was breathing hard, whether from anger or exertion she could not tell. Perhaps both.
When she reached his side, he did not look at her.
"Please," she said softly, "I do not wish to injure you," he looked at her angrily, "further," she amended.
He looked away.
"I have made a mess of things and I would not blame you if you never wished to see me again."
He made a noise in his throat, but still he would not look at her.
"I know I do not deserve it, but I ask for your forbearance. If you will allow me, I will attempt to tell you everything."
He was silent for several minutes. His breathing slowed. Finally, in a tight voice he said, "I fear I am not master of my emotions at present to do justice to your words." He paused then said, "However if you would allow me to call on you tomorrow, I believe I will be in a better frame of mind to hear you."
"Thank you," she said softly.
He nodded once. Looking down at the damaged flowers in his hand he drew out the only remaining blossom and offered it to her.
She took it with a small smile.
"Til tomorrow then," he said.
"Tomorrow," she repeated.
He nodded again and walked away.
Fanny watched until he was out of sight then turned slowly and walked back to her home.
The next day, Fanny, with Susan's help, kept a careful watch for Henry's arrival. As soon as he came into view, Fanny slipped out of the house.
She met Henry several steps from her front door.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
He bowed slightly but did not smile.
"Shall we walk down the lane?"
"As you wish," he said and indicated that she should lead.
They walked in silence until they were well away from the hustle and bustle of the town.
Henry waited for her to speak.
"I know I have appeared inconstant towards you. The very thing I accuse you of being, I have been myself. I am truly sorry; I did not mean to toy with your emotions." She twisted her hands nervously as she spoke.
He sighed. "Fanny, speak plainly what is in your heart."
She gave a small laugh. "I wish that I could." She passed her hand over her eyes and rubbed her temple. "My thoughts are in such an uproar. There is quite a battle going on between my head and my heart." She paused. "I know that Edmund desires to marry your sister. I keep telling myself that there is no chance for me, but until the deed is done, I still have hope."
"And when they marry, what then?" asked Henry. "Would I then be worthy of you?" When she didn't answer he said in exasperation, "I behaved poorly towards Maria! I admit it! I repent of it! How long will I be punished for it?"
"I do not wish to punish you," she replied.
"Then what is it?"
"Fanny, I believe that at this point we can be open with each other."
"Very well." She took a deep breath. "If Maria had ended her engagement with Mr. Rushworth, would you have married her?"
He was silent.
She spoke more softly. "Did it not occur to you that it might happen? That because of your attentions she would have expected you to make her an offer?"
"It did cross my mind." He looked away. "That is why I turned my attentions in another direction. I never had any intention of making an offer towards her. When I realized that she expected it, I tried to put distance between us."
"And what makes me different from Maria? If I were to desire your attentions, would you still wish to give them to me?"
He was thoughtful for a moment. "You and Maria are so very different. She thinks only of herself and you think of everyone else." He stared down at her for a moment. "You are pure, untouched. There are times when I truly believe you are an angel."
She looked away. "Now it is you who toys with me."
He gently turned her face back to him. "Look in my eyes, Fanny. See my heart. I have never loved any woman as I love you. If you will give me the chance I will prove my love and constancy. That is all I ask for...a chance."
They stared into each other's eyes for several moments. For the first time in his life, Henry let down all the barriers and bared his very soul. Fanny gasped inwardly at what she saw.
Tears came to her eyes. "I am so sorry," she whispered.
He dropped his hand and looked away. "So am I," he said.
"I wish that I could answer you the way you desire," she said. "There are times when I find that my heart has truly warmed to you." She smiled. "You can be exceedingly charming."
She was surprised to note that a blush came to his cheeks.
She sighed and looked away. "If I could just let go of my foolish dreams...perhaps...I do not know what would happen."
Taking her hand in both of his he said, "Allow me to become your friend. Not just an acquaintance that you merely tolerate, but someone that you desire to know. Someone you could trust." He paused. "Will you?"
He smiled for the first time since the day before. He reached up and brushed away a tear that had slipped from her eye then allowed his thumb to softly stroke her cheek.
They stood like that for several moments before Fanny became aware of their surroundings.
She slowly stepped back from him. "Mr. Crawford, please," she said teasingly attempting to lighten the mood.
His expression became tender, "I liked it better when you called me Henry."
"You are well aware that would not be proper, sir," she said keeping her tone light.
He smiled again. "Well, then, I suppose I should escort you home, Miss Price." He offered his arm.
"I would be delighted, Mr. Crawford." She took his arm and they walked leisurely back to the Price home.
Over the next two days, Henry dined at the Price household once; he walked on the ramparts with Mr. Price discussing politics; he complimented Mrs. Price; he treated Fanny's brothers as men and teased her sisters. During that time, he also managed to spend a few hours talking with Fanny.
For her part, Fanny began to know him. She encouraged him to talk about his family; where he grew up; his estate in Norfolk. She found herself looking forward to his visits and would even admit to herself that she was beginning to like him.
Her biggest obstacle was her tendency to compare him to Edmund. To Fanny, Edmund represented the perfect man; and even the charming Henry Crawford paled in comparison.
One afternoon, Fanny and Henry were returning from a walk when they were met at the door by Susan.
"Fanny, make haste, a letter has come for you by express. I think it is from Mansfield."
Fanny and Henry shared a look then hurried into the house.
"Ah, there you are," said Mrs. Price. She pulled a letter out of her pocket. "This came for you. I have had a terrible time keeping the boys from opening it." She handed the letter to Fanny and returned to her work.
Fanny's quick eye detected that it was indeed from Mansfield; from Edmund. She quickly broke the seal and opened the letter.
"My dearest Fanny,
I told you I would write when I had anything worth writing about. Little did I know it would not be the joyous news I had hoped.
Tom is deathly ill---"
Fanny gasped, "Oh no."
Mrs. Price did not hear her. Henry stepped nearer and grasped her arm gently.
"It is Tom," she said, "he is very sick."
She continued to read, allowing Henry to read over her shoulder.
"Tom is deathly ill. He became ill while staying with some friends in Newmarket. His friends departed, leaving him to the care of the housekeeper. Several days ago, she sent word that he was dying. My father and I immediately went to retrieve him.
I was shocked to find him so thin and pale. We brought him to Mansfield as soon as possible. He is still gravely ill and the doctor does not offer much hope.
My mother suffers cruelly and my father is almost inconsolable. Maria and Julia are still in London and have indicated no desire to return home. To have you here is our dearest wish, but it is impossible to say when we can send for you.
Keep us in your prayers, dear Fanny. Truly, I believe it is the only hope we have.
"My poor aunt! Poor Sir Thomas," cried Fanny.
Henry said, "I would be only too happy to escort you back to Mansfield. I know how much you desire to be there."
"That's very kind of you, Mr. Crawford," said Fanny. "But I do not think my family would approve of my traveling alone with a single gentleman."
Mrs. Price made no response; she was not attending them at all.
He was thoughtful for a moment then said, "What if Susan accompanied us? Your father could not find anything untoward if Susan travels with us."
Fanny kept her voice low. "I do not think my uncle would appreciate our arriving unannounced." She hesitated. "We did not part on good terms."
"I know what terms you parted on very well, but these tragic circumstances must negate previous disagreements."
She looked uncertain.
"Allow me to do this: I will send word by express of my plan and ask for Sir Thomas' approval. If he does not object, then certainly you can not." She still hesitated. "Please," he urged, "let me do this."
"Very well," she said, "Thank you, Henry."
He smiled at her unconscious use of his name and turned to go. "I shall dispatch the letter the moment it is written."
Surprisingly, twenty-four hours later, an express came from Mansfield agreeing to the plan. Mr. Price readily agreed; returning Fanny to Mansfield had always been his intention and sending Susan along meant one less mouth to feed and one less voice to listen too.
The sisters packed their belongings; Fanny with an urgent dread and Susan in a slightly repressed excitement. The next morning, Henry arrived at their door just before sunup with his carriage.
And so it was with little sorrow from Fanny and Susan and none from the remainder of the Price household that the three of them set off for Mansfield.
Once Susan drifted off, Henry and Fanny talked quietly then fell into a comfortable silence. Eventually, Fanny fell asleep. As the carriage rocked, her head slipped down onto Henry's shoulder. He gently raised his arm over her head and draped it around her. He was pleasantly surprised when she stirred in her sleep and nestled into his embrace.
He took a deep breath and let it out raggedly. It was going to be a long ride.
Posted on July 28, 2008
Fanny stood at the back of Mansfield church. At the opposite end of the aisle Edmund was waiting for her, smiling. She began to slowly walk towards him, hardly noticing the people in the pews. When she was more than halfway down the aisle, his smile widened. As she drew near, she slowed her pace, expecting Edmund to offer his hand.
She stopped next to him and waited. But he wasn't looking at her. Instead, his eyes were focused behind her. Fanny turned to see what he was staring at.
Then she saw Mary Crawford looking more beautiful than ever, walking down the aisle smiling radiantly. Fanny looked back to Edmund. The look on his face was unmistakable; pure love.
Silently, Fanny backed away from Edmund; yielding her place to Mary. In less than a heartbeat, the minister pronounced them husband and wife and the couple turned and gleefully walked back down the aisle.
Fanny couldn't move. She watched as everyone congratulated the happy couple. Suddenly she thought of Henry. Her eyes anxiously sought him out. She caught a brief glance of him exiting the church. She pushed her way through the crowd and exited the church in time to see him riding away.
She screamed his name but he didn't hear her. Sir Thomas appeared at her side.
"You should have accepted him when you had the chance, Fanny Price. He's gone forever. You have been selfish and disrespectful. I am sending you back to your family in Portsmouth. From this day forward, you shall be a stranger to Mansfield."
Fanny suddenly felt light headed; the world began to spin. Scenes flashed before her eyes; Edmund and Mary looking so happy; dancing with Henry at the ball; back to Edmund and Mary; Henry riding away; Sir Thomas. The words "stranger to Mansfield" kept echoing in her head.
Fanny awakened with a start. It took her a few moments to remember that she was in a carriage with Susan and Henry on the way back to Mansfield. She glanced across at Susan but the young girl was still sleeping soundly. She then realized that she was surprisingly warm and comfortable. Slowly she realized exactly how she was situated.
She would have removed herself from Henry's embrace immediately, but she found that he would not let go. She glanced up at his face to find his eyes closed in slumber. She tried to think of a way to disengage herself without waking him, but before she came to a solution, he awoke.
It took him a moment to fully realize where he was. When he did, he looked down at Fanny. With a small smile, he said, "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes," she said quietly.
He moved his arm from around her and let it lay across the back of the carriage seat. Fanny sat up and tried to smooth back her hair.
"How long have you been awake," he asked.
"Not long. I did not wish to wake you."
He sensed her unease. "Fanny, I assure you I was a gentleman." He paused then said with a sly smile, "No matter how much I was tempted."
She looked up to see his teasing expression. She smiled and replied in kind, "I commend you, Mr. Crawford. It must have been exceedingly difficult."
"Indeed it was," he said with a softened look. "When your heart's desire is within your grasp you do not want to let it go."
Fanny blushed but before she could speak, Susan awoke. The young girl sat up and looked out the window.
"How much further," she asked.
Henry tore his eyes away from Fanny and replied, "We should reach Mansfield within the hour."
Fanny looked outside. Though it was dark, she could make out some familiar landscape. When she met Henry's eyes he smiled, "You are almost home, Miss Price."
She was surprised that he read her thoughts so easily.
Three quarters of an hour later, Mansfield house could be seen out the window.
Henry was out of the carriage almost before it stopped. He quickly handed Fanny out, followed by Susan.
Fanny was surprised to see Sir Thomas standing just outside the front door.
Their eyes met and the older man walked slowly towards her. He stopped a few feet away. Finally, he said, "We have had our share of estrangement at Mansfield. Let us forget the past."
Fanny nodded silently.
A hint of a smile came to his face. "Welcome home, dear Fanny." He embraced her.
Fanny had to blink back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. In her wildest dreams, she had not expected this reception.
Sir Thomas stepped back and looked at Susan. "This must be young Susan."
"Yes," stammered Fanny. She turned to the young girl. "Susy, this is Sir Thomas Bertram, our uncle."
"How do you do, sir," said Susan nervously.
"Welcome to Mansfield, Susan," Sir Thomas shook her hand.
"Thank you, sir," she replied.
Sir Thomas turned to Henry. "Crawford, thank you for conveying my nieces home."
"It was a pleasure, sir," said Henry with a bow.
"Let us go in" said Sir Thomas.
"I will take my leave," said Henry.
Fanny looked up quickly.
Henry continued. "I would not wish to impose on your family, Sir Thomas."
"Nonsense, Henry," said Sir Thomas, "you are part of the family. Please come inside and have some refreshment."
"Please," said Fanny quietly with a small smile.
Henry acquiesced and followed the others into the house.
Sir Thomas directed them into the drawing room, but Fanny stopped. "Forgive me, sir, but I should like to attend to my Aunt Bertram then perhaps sit with Tom a while."
"All in good time, Fanny," said her uncle guiding her into the drawing room. "You have traveled a long way and you are in need of some refreshment. Your aunt is resting in her room and Edmund is with Tom at the moment. There is nothing for you to do but enjoy a cup of tea."
Once the young people were seated, Sir Thomas excused himself and left the room. When the door closed behind him, Susan exclaimed, "What richness! I never imagined Mansfield Park was so large."
"This is just the parlor," said Henry with a smile.
"Might I look around, Fanny," she asked.
With a nod from Fanny, Susan was out of her seat and exploring the room.
Henry and Fanny's eyes met and they shared a smile.
"You are surprised by Sir Thomas' manner of greeting," said Henry.
"Indeed," said Fanny once again surprised at Henry's knowledge of her. "I did not expect so warm a reception."
Henry shook his head. "Fanny, even Sir Thomas can see your goodness."
"Please, Mr. Crawford," she said with a blush.
"I speak the truth. Where are his daughters? In London, enjoying society. They show no inclination to be at home where their brother lay dying. They are content to let their father and brother bear the burden of his care and they have no compassion for their poor mother." He paused. "You on the other hand traveled home as soon as you heard the news and in the short minutes you have been here have concerned yourself with your aunt and cousin. Sir Thomas can not be blind to the comparison."
Fanny was saved from a response when the door to the parlor opened. However, instead of her uncle or the servant with the tea, Edmund walked in.
"Fanny," he exclaimed.
Fanny rose and met him. The cousins embraced. When Edmund released her, Fanny glanced at Henry. She saw his eyes withdraw with a look of pain.
Edmund turned to Henry. "Crawford, how can we ever thank you for bringing Fanny home." The two men shook hands.
"You need not thank me," said Henry. "I have been amply paid by your charming cousins' company."
"Oh yes," said Edmund looking around. "Where is Susan?"
"Here," said Fanny as Susan returned. "Susy, this is your cousin Edmund. Edmund this is Susan."
"Hello, Susan," said Edmund. "Welcome to Mansfield. I hope you are not disappointed."
"Disappointed," exclaimed Susan. "Not at all, sir."
Edmund smiled. "Please Susan, call me Edmund. Reserve the "sir" for my father."
The door opened a second time and a servant entered with the tea tray. Once they were all seated, Fanny poured the tea.
As she passed a cup to Henry, she said, "How is Tom, Edmund? Is he any better?"
Edmund sighed. "He is no worse. The doctor says that he is still very ill." He paused. "He can not tell us if Tom will recover or not."
Fanny gasped. "My poor Aunt and Uncle!"
"Yes," said Edmund, "my mother can only be in the room for a short period of time before she is overcome. My father takes it especially hard. I think, in a way, he believes it is his own fault."
A thought occurred to Fanny. "Where is my Aunt Norris?"
"She keeps mostly to her house," said Edmund.
At Fanny and Henry's surprised looks, he smiled slightly, "Tom requires almost constant care. It is no easy task; changing bed linens, feeding him broth a spoonful at a time; he has a difficult time keeping anything in his stomach. I believe our Aunt stays away in order to avoid some of the more unpleasant tasks."
Fanny smiled. "How terrible."
Two days after her arrival, Fanny entered Tom's room with a pitcher of fresh water and some clean towels. Edmund was sitting in the window seat. Fanny put the pitcher and towels down and joined him.
"How long has he been sleeping," she asked.
"Almost an hour," said Edmund. "I do think he's a little better."
Fanny smiled in response. "Other than Tom's illness I trust you are well?"
"Pretty well. I believe that Mary has almost resigned herself to being the wife of a stodgy clergyman."
"She has gone to London, has she not," said Fanny with a furrowed brow.
He nodded. "Her friends convinced her to come for a visit." He shrugged his shoulders. "With Tom ill, I could not have devoted much time to her." He paused and studied her for a few moments. "So Crawford was in Portsmouth?"
"Yes," she said with a slight smile. "He arrived a few days before I received your letter."
"It was a fortunate thing, him being there. There would have been no other way for you to return to Mansfield had it not been for him."
"Indeed," she replied.
"Has your heart changed towards him," he asked gently.
She looked out the window. "Several times," she said softly.
He began to speak, but he was cut off when Tom began thrashing about. They both jumped to their feet and attended to him.
The next day, Fanny was spending a few moments in the parlor with her Aunt Bertram and Susy, when a servant brought her a letter. The handwriting showed immediately that it was from Mary Crawford. She sighed and broke the seal:
"My dear Miss Price,
I am so glad that I can once again send this correspondence to you at Mansfield. You must be so pleased to be once again at home. Henry wrote to me of his visit to Portsmouth. I am delighted he could be of service to you. Do you not see what an excellent husband he would make? But I will not scold you. I am sure that time will prove his love for you and you will not leave him disappointed.
I remain here in London where the scenery is not nearly so beautiful nor the company as interesting as Mansfield. There is no one to rescue me. We saw your cousins, Mrs. Rushworth and Julia, yesterday. They both looked well and seemed to be enjoying the London society. Mrs. Rushworth was quite interested to find that you were returned to Mansfield and by whom.
So poor Tom continues to suffer; I am sorry for him. I see you smile, dear Fanny, but upon my word, I have never bribed a physician in my life. My wish is for Tom's recovery. However, since the subject has begun I put it to you, does not "Sir Edmund" sound very fine? At least the sorrow of Tom's loss would be amply compensated with the knowledge that Mansfield would come into excellent hands after Sir Thomas' demise.
I must leave off, we are to call on Lady Hampshire. Oh that I may avoid her insipid son. Though he is an Earl, he is neither handsome nor interesting, but he will continue to beg for my attention. If he only knew how far from my ideal he falls. I will not mention names, but you understand me.
I wait anxiously to hear any news from Mansfield. I shall think of nothing else.
Fanny shook her head over the letter. Miss Crawford's cool way of elevating Edmund at the expense of Tom's life disgusted her. She wondered if Henry was aware of Mary's opinion. It also struck her that if Mary was so unhappy in London, she could ask her brother to convey her back to Mansfield. She was positive that Henry would be more than happy to bring Edmund and Mary back together.
"So, Fanny," her aunt said in a languid voice, "who is your letter from?"
"It is from Miss Crawford, ma'am."
"Oh, dear Miss Crawford, how is she?"
"She is well. She has seen Mrs. Rushworth and Miss Bertram."
"I do hope they were not too out of spirits over Tom's illness."
"Miss Crawford says that they are well and she sends her best wishes for Tom's recovery."
"Poor Tom," began Lady Bertram, "I'm so worried about him."
"Yes, ma'am," said Fanny, thankful to move on to a different subject. "We are all worried, but we should not allow it to get the better of us. Tom must recover."
"Yes, you are right, dear Fanny. Tom must recover," she lay back and closed her eyes.
Susie and Fanny exchanged a knowing smile.
Fanny read the letter once again. She still couldn't get over the feeling that Mary was not telling all
Posted on August 1, 2008
Over the next week, Fanny tended to Tom giving Edmund and Sir Thomas a much needed rest. The time she didn't spend with Tom, she spent with Lady Bertram and Susan, gently encouraging them to become acquainted.
By the middle of her second week at home, the doctor announced that Tom would recover although it would take quite some time for a full recovery. This news brought much joy the tenants of Mansfield Park.
Unfortunately, it also brought the return of Mrs. Norris. Now that Fanny was back, and with the addition of Susan, Mrs. Norris could reclaim her place at Mansfield without assuming any of the work. Fanny helped with the care of Tom and Susan was quickly becoming an adequate substitute for Fanny to Lady Bertram.
Towards the end of that week, Fanny was taking broth up to Tom. As she passed by the front door, Mrs. Norris was welcoming Henry and Mrs. Grant.
"It is so kind of you to call," said Mrs. Norris. "Tom is much better, we are all so delighted. We expect Mrs. Rushworth and Julia within the next few days." It was at this moment she noticed Fanny approaching.
"Thank you so much for coming," said Fanny to their guests. She curtsied as best she could with the tray in her hands.
"Fanny," said Mrs. Norris sharply, "I have been meaning to ask; how long are you staying?"
Fanny looked at her and said, "I am not quite sure, Aunt Norris. How long are you staying?" She turned to walk up the stairs. As she rounded the corner, she caught Henry watching her with an expression of admiration.
She offered a saucy smile in return and continued up the stairs. She was pleased to see Henry. Indeed, she had missed his company over the last two weeks.
Fanny entered Tom's room. Tom was sitting up but dozing. Edmund was looking out of the window, he turned when she entered.
"Mrs. Grant and Mr. Crawford have called."
He took the tray from her. "Why do you not join them," he said.
"I thought perhaps you would like to visit with them. You have rarely left this room in the past three weeks. You could use the break."
"No more so that you."
"But I am used to working hard," she said with a teasing smile.
"And I am not," he replied in kind.
"Why do not you both go," came Tom's gravely voice. "I promise not to die while you are gone."
They both turned and smiled at him.
"Go," he ordered.
Fanny filled a glass of water and set it next to him. "I shall return in a quarter of an hour."
He waved her away.
Edmund and Fanny walked down the stairs to the sitting room. When they entered, they found Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Grant at one end civilly debating the various uses for the apricots that grew on the tree in the parsonage garden. Lady Bertram and Susan sat at the other end of the room while Mr. Crawford read to them. Fanny couldn't help but smile. He was reading one of Shakespeare's comedies. His small audience appeared extremely diverted by his rendition of A Mid Summer Night's Dream. He paused to turn the page and looked up. He smiled in response to her pleased expression, and then returned his attention to the book.
Edmund went to pay his respects to Mrs. Grant, while Fanny took a seat near the others.
Henry finished the act and closed the book.
"That was charming," said Lady Bertram lethargically.
"Thank you, your ladyship," said Henry.
Edmund joined them. "Crawford," he said by way of greeting.
"Edmund," returned Henry. "How is Tom?"
"Recovering nicely. The doctor will not admit it, but I believe he is somewhat mystified as to this happy turn of events."
"I am very glad to hear it, although I am not surprised. Tom has had the best care anyone could ask for." He spoke to Edmund, but his eyes shifted to Fanny with warm smile.
Fanny blushed and dropped her eyes. She was gratified by his words and that surprised her.
Just then, Lady Bertram required Fanny's assistance for some inane task. When Fanny rose to assist her aunt, Edmund took the opportunity to ask Henry whether he had recently heard from his sister.
Fanny's ears were immediately attuned to the conversation.
"I received a letter yesterday," replied Henry. "She is enjoying her time with her friends, but she did say that she missed her friends here. She seemed anxious to return to the country."
"Did she," Edmund responded quietly.
Henry nodded. "I do not recall when she has ever been so anxious to leave the town," he said with an encouraging smile for Edmund. "She asked about Tom's recovery. I shall be happy to send her good tidings."
Fanny finished attending her aunt and returned to her seat. The conversation turned to more general subjects, but Fanny could not help but notice Edmund's cheerful manner. She sighed inwardly and tried to join the discussion.
A few days later, Maria arrived without Julia to everyone's surprise.
"Julia is staying with our cousins," said Maria settling into a chair. "Since Tom is getting better, she did not see the need to leave her friends."
Fanny noticed that Sir Thomas' face showed a momentary glint of pain, but he quickly recovered and asked after his son-in-law.
"Oh," said Maria, "Rushworth is devoting all his time to the gardens at Southerton." Her eyes gleamed as she told them that the famous designer who was going to assist her husband. "When the project is complete, they will be the most beautiful gardens outside of London," she exclaimed gleefully.
For the rest of the afternoon, Maria entertained them with tales of parties and important people that she had met. Mrs. Norris encouraged her to spare no detail. The two ladies carried the majority of the conversation.
Just as tea was about to be served, the servant announced Mr. Crawford.
Maria immediately smoothed her hair and shifted her position in her chair to show herself to the best advantage.
Henry first greeted Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, and then turned to greet Maria.
"Mrs. Rushworth," he said bowing, but tactfully ignoring her slightly raised hand. "I did not realize you had arrived. How is Mr. Rushworth?"
Maria's face fell slightly at first, but she smiled and replied, "How nice to see you Mr. Crawford. My husband is at Southerton presently. I will join him when he returns to London, but that will not be for several weeks." She paused then added in a quieter tone, "I shall be quite unprotected."
Henry chose to ignore the implication of her words. "A loss to our party to be sure." He would have turned away from her, but she quickly asked after his sister.
"She is still in London, ma'am," he said.
"Another loss," said Maria with a coy smile.
"Indeed," said Henry. He then turned and greeted the rest of them. Instead of taking the seat next to Maria, he took one between Lady Bertram's sofa and Fanny.
As conversation resumed among the others, Maria silently fumed as she saw Henry and Fanny engage in a private conversation. Whatever Henry said caused them both to laugh.
"Pray, Mr. Crawford," she said, "what is the joke? What has made my cousin laugh so?"
Henry glanced at Fanny before looking at Maria. "We were talking of a book we have both recently read," he said.
"Perhaps the rest of us would like to join your conversation," she said, "Of what book were you speaking?"
Henry glanced around the group and noticed that no one else seemed to be paying them any attention. Lady Bertram dozed on her sofa; Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas were engaged in a conversation about one of the servants; and Susan and Edmund were looking at a large atlas.
Henry named the book and from Maria's reaction, it was obvious that she had never heard of the book much less read it.
It was at this opportune time that tea was brought in. Fanny excused herself to serve the tea.
Henry stood and moved towards Edmund and Susan but Maria stopped him.
"Have your...tastes altered so much," she asked in a low voice with a look that left no doubt as to her meaning.
"Indeed they have, ma'am," and with a little bow, he added, "excuse me," and moved away.
She flushed, then remembering herself, she calmed. She watched as Fanny served tea to Henry. Their interaction was easy and comfortable. There was no sign of the tension that had previously existed between them.
Edmond left the room to go to Tom, leaving Susan by herself. Maria joined her by the pianoforte.
"Susan, how do you find Mansfield Park?"
"I like it very much."
"I am sure your sister is very happy to have you here. Was your journey from Portsmouth enjoyable?"
"Oh very," said Susan her eyes sparkling. "We left very early and were in the carriage for a long time, but Mr. Crawford made the time go quickly."
"I was surprised to hear that Mr. Crawford traveled with you."
"With my cousin Tom ill, Fanny wanted to return to Mansfield as soon as possible. Fortunately, Mr. Crawford was in Portsmouth. It was he who wrote to Sir Thomas to ask permission to escort Fanny and me. He has been very kind to us."
"Indeed he has," said Maria shifting her gaze to Henry who was speaking to Sir Thomas. "And he was in Portsmouth you say?"
"He came to visit Fanny and introduce himself to our father and mother."
Maria returned her attention to Susan. "I had not realized that Mr. Crawford and Fanny were such close acquaintances."
Susan glanced at Fanny who was attending Lady Bertram. When she ascertained that Fanny was not watching, she said more quietly, "Actually, Mr. Crawford proposed to Fanny."
Maria started. "Proposed," she responded sharply.
It was at this moment that Sir Thomas chose to join his daughter and niece. "I see the two of you are getting acquainted," he said.
"Yes, sir," said Susy, who was still a bit in awe of her uncle.
"Father," said Maria, "If you will excuse me, I'm feeling a bit fatigued from my journey. I believe I will rest a little while."
Sir Thomas bowed slightly. "Of course."
Maria made her way across the room pausing as she passed Henry. "If you will excuse me Mr. Crawford, I wish to rest before dinner."
"I hope we shall have the opportunity to converse later." She glanced at Susan then back to him. "I hear you have been busy." She swept out of the room leaving Henry behind looking puzzled.
He did not hear Fanny approach. "Are you well Mr. Crawford?"
He started and turned to her.
"Mr. Crawford," she repeated with a smile.
"Forgive me Miss Price."
Her eyes shifted to the door where Maria had exited. "Of course," said Fanny, her smile faltering.
He glanced about then leaned towards her ever so slightly, "You need not worry Fanny," he said in a soft voice, "I care nothing for her. My heart beats for you alone."
"Mr. Crawford, please," she whispered back with a blush.
He smiled. "You are beautiful when you are embarrassed."
She could not help but smile.
Sir Thomas observed them. Although he could not hear their conversation, he smiled to himself. The blush on his niece's cheek and Crawford's warm smile pleased him exceedingly. He had every assurance that all would be settled between them at last
Posted on August 7, 2008
Two weeks later, Henry and Mrs. Grant walked through the village. They had just come from the post where Henry had received a letter from Mary. Once they entered the parsonage grounds, he broke the seal and began to read. His eyes moved down the paper covered by his sisters flowing hand.
A few lines down the page, he stopped in his tracks, "Good God," he exclaimed.
"What is it Henry," asked Mrs. Grant.
He read the first lines again more slowly.
"Forgive me," he said in an agitated manner. "It is just that I can not comprehend what Mary has written."
"Is she unwell, what has happened?"
He handed the letter to Mrs. Grant. "See for yourself what she writes."
Mrs. Grant eagerly accepted the letter and quickly read through it. When she finished, she raised her eyes to Henry. "I can not believe it."
"Nor can I," replied Henry.
"How could she do this?"
"Is it not plain enough," he said indicating the letter. After a few moments, he added, "I must go to Mansfield."
"Yes," she said.
He took the letter from her. "I shall go immediately."
Mrs. Grant nodded in response. Without another word, Henry turned and headed for Mansfield Park.
Baddeley admitted him to the house. "Good day, Mr. Crawford."
Henry had no time for pleasantries. "Baddeley, I must speak to Miss Price in private."
"Of course, sir. Would you care to wait in the library?" Baddeley showed him into the room.
"Thank you. Please find her quickly."
"At once, sir."
Henry opened Mary's letter and read it again. In his agitated state, he began to pace the length of the room.
The library door opened and Henry turned quickly, "Fanny---" he began but stopped upon seeing Maria.
"Mr. Crawford, what a pleasant surprise."
"Mrs. Rushworth," he said as he bowed.
A small pout came to her face, "You are disappointed to see me."
"Forgive me, ma'am, I was expecting Miss Price."
"Ah yes, Fanny," she said with a slight sneer.
He made no answer.
"I was quite surprised to find her such a favorite with you. I did not think Fanny would...satisfy you." She wandered about the room. "She is somewhat pretty...I suppose she would make a tolerable wife. She is such a good little girl. And I suppose that you will become a good little boy." She met his eyes.
Henry met her gaze fully. "If Fanny Price consented to be my wife I would become whatever she wanted."
At that moment, the door opened and Fanny entered. Seeing the two of them and sensing the tension between them, she stopped, "Oh...I beg your pardon."
"Fanny," said Maria, "Mr. Crawford is anxious to speak with you. You must not keep him waiting." She glanced at Henry once more and left the room.
As the door closed, Henry sighed. "Will my past indiscretions never cease to haunt me?" He looked at Fanny. "Please believe me; I did not come here to see her."
"I know," she said. She lowered her eyes with a blush. "I saw Maria enter. I am ashamed to say that I was eavesdropping."
Henry smiled slightly. "Not quite the angel after all, Miss Price."
"As you well know, Mr. Crawford." She changed the subject. "You wished to see me?"
The smile left his face as he remembered his purpose in coming to Mansfield. "I have had a letter from Mary."
"Is she well?"
"Well enough," he said with a wry expression. "She wrote to tell me that she is to be married."
"Married?" She glanced in the direction of Tom's room where she had left Edmund. "But Edmund---"
"Not to Edmund," said Henry shaking his head.
Fanny's eyes grew large. "But...if not Edmund...then who?"
"Lord Hampshire," he said in a tone the left no doubt as to his feelings.
"Lord Hampshire" she exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes, do you know him?"
"I know of him. I had a letter from Mary about three weeks ago. She mentioned Lord Hampshire."
"And did she mention any attachment between them?"
"Quite the contrary. She said that he sought her attentions, but she did not give them." Fanny sighed. "What has happened that she now accepts a proposal of marriage from a man whom three weeks ago she described as insipid and wished to avoid?"
Henry hesitated. He seemed to be searching for words. He spoke haltingly. "She accepted him because..." he ran his hand through his hair and shook his head. "I can hardly speak the words but I must. In my last letter to her, I wrote of Tom's improved prognosis. It seems that Mary had her heart set..." he trailed off, unable to continue.
Fanny completed his thought. "Mary had her heart set on Edmund inheriting Mansfield."
He nodded. "She was counting on Tom's death to make Edmund's fortune and keep him from taking orders. When she realized that Tom would recover she could not face simply being a clergyman's wife. She marries for status."
Fanny walked over to a chair and sat down. "I am sorry to say that I am not surprised. Her letter indicated that she was thinking about it."
Henry took a seat near her. "Edmund should be told. I admit I do not wish to be the one to bring such news to him."
"No," said Fanny thoughtfully. "Perhaps we should consult Sir Thomas. He will know best how to approach Edmund."
Henry considered her suggestion. "I believe you are right." He stood up. "I will go to him immediately."
Fanny rose. "Shall I go with you?"
"No," he said, "It is my relation who will cause the pain; I must deal with this myself."
She gave him an encouraging smile and he left the room.
Henry went to Sir Thomas' study and knocked on the door. When he was bidden, he entered.
"Mr. Crawford," said Sir Thomas as he stood up, "please come in."
"Good morning, Sir Thomas," Henry responded with a bow.
"Please, sit," Sir Thomas gestured to a chair across from him.
"Thank you, sir." Once they were seated, Henry began, "I beg your pardon for disturbing you, but I have something I must tell you."
"I am just reviewing some business matters that have gone neglected since Tom's illness."
When Henry hesitated, Sir Thomas encouraged him to speak.
"Sir, I have had a letter from my sister in London."
"Ah, yes, the charming Mary Crawford." He observed Henry's countenance. "You seem distressed Henry, what is it?"
"I am afraid I have some surprising and unpleasant news to pass on. My sister has written to announce her engagement."
Sir Thomas looked confused. "Her engagement?"
"Yes sir, she has accepted Lord Hampshire, Earl of ---."
Sir Thomas was silent.
"Please believe me, sir; I knew nothing of this until I received her letter this very morning. When I read it I came immediately to Mansfield."
"Is anyone else aware of this news?"
"I have consulted Fanny. It was she who advised me to come to you."
"Dear Fanny," said Sir Thomas with a brief smile that faded quickly. "Edmund must be told." He stood and rang for Baddely. When the servant appeared, Sir Thomas directed him to ask Edmund to join them.
"This will be quite a shock, I am afraid," said Sir Thomas returning to his desk.
"If you think it wise, sir," began Henry, "I will inform Edmund myself. After all, it is my relation who is to cause him pain."
After a few moments thought, Sir Thomas said, "I would like for you to remain, but I believe it would be better if I tell him."
A knock at the door revealed Edmund.
"Come in, Edmund," said his father.
Edmund entered and seeing Henry greeted him. "Crawford, good to see you." He glanced at his father then back to Henry. "Dare I hope that this interview has something to do with Fanny? Shall I wish you joy?"
"I am afraid not, Edmund," began Henry.
"Sit down, Edmund," said Sir Thomas.
Once they were all seated, Sir Thomas began, "Edmund, I am afraid I must tell you something that will give you pain."
Concerned, Edmund sat forward in his chair, "Father..."
Sir Thomas stalled him with a raised hand. "Mr. Crawford has had a letter from his sister---"
Edmund turned to Henry. "What is wrong? Is Mary unwell? What has happened?"
"Edmund," Sir Thomas spoke sharply to gain his attention. In a calmer tone, he continued, "Miss Crawford is well. She has written to inform her brother that she has accepted a proposal of marriage from Lord Hampshire." He paused, then added, "Mary Crawford is engaged to Lord Hampshire."
Edmund stared at him for several moments. Finally, he said brokenly, "Engaged?" His father nodded. He turned to Henry.
With a grim expression, Henry said, "It is true, Edmund. I received her letter this morning."
"I do not understand."
Henry shook his head, "Nor do I. I can offer no explanation. I am deeply ashamed of my sister's conduct."
Finally, Edmund stood. "If you will excuse me, Father, I would like to be alone."
"Of course," said Sir Thomas.
Edmund looked at Henry, "Crawford," he said with a bow.
Henry bowed in return.
Edmund turned and left the room. When the door closed, Henry turned to Sir Thomas. "Sir Thomas," he said, "If you desire to end our acquaintance---"
Sir Thomas stopped him. "Nonsense, Henry," he said in a subdued tone. "I appreciate the gesture, but there is no need to end our friendship. Edmund will recover in time." He stood. "And someday there will be another young woman who will gain his affection."
With a heavy heart, Henry replied, "I am sure you are right, sir." He bowed and left the room.
As he crossed the hall to the front door, Fanny stepped out into his path.
He stopped. "It is over. Edmund's hopes have been ruined by my wretched sister." He dropped his head to his chest.
"Henry," she said softly, "this is not your fault. You have no control over Mary's conduct."
"Perhaps not, but I feel her conduct has forever changed my acquaintance with Mansfield Park."
"No," said Fanny, "it will be uncomfortable for a time---"
"Fanny," he interrupted, "Do you not see. Edmund is not the only one whose hopes have been ruined by my sister's betrothal."
In response to her confused expression, he said, "Edmund will recover from his disappointment. And he will see the jewel that has been before him all his life. And he will not be able to resist. And then all of my hopes, all of my dreams will be ruined forever." With a tender look, he departed.
Unable to speak, Fanny watched the door close behind him
Posted on August 12, 2008
Over the next several days, Fanny saw little of Edmund. He was present for meal times, but he spoke only when directly spoken to, responding in short answers devoid of any emotion. He joined the family in the evening but never remained long. While with them he would pretend to read or stand at the window staring out into the darkness. When Edmund departed the room, Sir Thomas and Fanny would share a brief glance. Only the two of them understood Edmund's suffering.
Sir Thomas had informed his family of Mary Crawford's engagement and Edmund's disappointment. Lady Bertram took little notice of Edmund's somber mood relying on Sir Thomas' assurances that all would be well in time. Mrs. Norris commented only once, earning a reproof from Sir Thomas. Maria's thoughts alternated between wishing she would be invited to the wedding and wondering how long she must wait before calling on Lady Hampshire. Despite Mary's treatment of Edmund, Maria had no intention of missing the chance to be known as an intimate friend of Her Ladyship.
Henry Crawford had not called at Mansfield since the day he delivered the news of Mary's betrothal. Mrs. Grant had encouraged him to go, but he refused claiming guilt over Mary's behavior as his excuse. Secretly, however, it was fear that kept him away. Fear that Edmund would no longer be blind to Fanny's love for him. Henry had seen Fanny once, in the village, but he had not approached her, preferring instead to observe her from a distance. He had contemplated removing himself from the neighborhood in an effort to relieve his suffering and begin the inevitable process of separating himself from her. As yet he had been unable to depart. For the time, he would take what little comfort he could from just being in the same country as Fanny.
Life at Mansfield continued in this manner for a month. There was a respite from the somber mood for Tom was now well enough to spend a few hours each day below stairs. He joined the family for tea and sat with them, sometimes through dinner. The first day or two, everyone was all attentiveness and smiles. But Lady Bertram quickly returned to her languid state. Maria and Mrs. Norris followed suit a day or two later. Only Fanny and Sir Thomas continued to attempt a cheerful attitude.
One afternoon, Tom felt well enough to venture outside. Leaving Susan to entertain Lady Bertram, Fanny and Tom escaped into the fresh air. Arm in arm, they walked slowly, back and forth in front of the house. Their conversation was sparse, both of them simply enjoying being out of doors.
After a few minutes, Tom exclaimed, "What ho...is that Crawford coming to pay a call?"
Fanny looked quickly in the direction of the parsonage and saw that indeed it was Henry. He had stopped when his eyes met Fanny's. She smiled. It was all he needed; he resumed walking at a slightly quicker pace.
When they met, Fanny offered her hand; he took it, and placed the softest of kisses on her fingers. If Tom noticed, he made no comment. Henry turned to him, "Bertram, it is good to see you out. How are you feeling?"
"As though I have been run over by a team of wild horses," said Tom with a wry smile.
Fanny grinned. "Do not let him fool you, Mr. Crawford. He is growing stronger every day."
"With such a nurse as Miss Price," said Henry, "he could do no better."
Fanny tried to halt the blush that threatened her cheeks.
"What brings you to Mansfield," asked Tom.
The smile left Henry's face. "I come to take my leave."
Fanny felt her own smile slip away.
"I travel to town in the morning."
"For Mary's wedding," said Fanny softly.
He nodded. "It is unavoidable."
"She is still your sister, Crawford." Tom paused. "If I have learned anything from this illness, it is to value my family." He patted Fanny's hand on his arm. "Especially when you do not deserve them." She smiled and squeezed his hand in return.
She turned to Henry and slipped her free hand through his arm. "Come," she said, "let us go inside."
Henry delighted in her touch and could not help smile as they entered
They found all the family excepting Edmund in the sitting room. After greetings were exchanged, Lady Bertram bid Susan to ring for refreshments and they all sat down. Henry took a seat between Tom and Maria.
"Crawford," began Sir Thomas, "we've missed you these last weeks. Haven't we?" He stopped short of adding "Fanny" but his eyes rested on her for a response.
Fanny smiled and nodded, but before she could speak, Maria said coolly, "Yes, father, we have all missed Mr. Crawford. He adds such an interesting element to our party."
Sir Thomas's face showed that he did not quite understand his daughter's comment.
"You must cheer us, Mr. Crawford," continued Maria, "we have been a rather dull party these last few weeks."
Henry glanced first at Fanny and then to Sir Thomas, giving each of them an apologetic look.
"We have been rather dull," said Lady Bertram lethargically, entering the conversation, "but Tom is recovered and that brings us such joy. And now you have come to call on us, Mr. Crawford, we shall all be merry again."
"Thank you, your Ladyship. I, too, am cheered by Mr. Bertram's recovery." He paused. "I am afraid that my purpose in calling on you is to take my leave. I go to town tomorrow for a few days."
Sir Thomas immediately comprehended Henry's reason for going to town, but did not comment. His daughter, however, was not so wise.
"Ah yes," she said, "dear Miss Crawford's wedding, I suppose. What a grand affair it will be." She added, "How I should like to be there to see all the finery."
Fanny's eyes immediately flew to her uncle. His expression was stoic, a sure sign that he was displeased.
"I attend out of duty to my family," said Henry with a grave expression. "I do not expect any pleasure in the event."
Maria was silenced for the moment.
Tom came to the rescue. "It would appear that you will have fine weather for your trip." He looked out the window. "Indeed, I have a great desire to go with you. What do you think, Fanny? Shall I tag along with Crawford?" He gave a mischievous grin to his cousin.
"Tom," cried his mother in an agitated manner, "you would not leave us so soon. You are not well enough to travel."
Fanny placed a calming hand on Lady Bertram's arm. "I believe Tom is joking, aunt. Is it not good to see his sense of humor again?"
"Oh, oh yes, Fanny. Tom has such a playful sense of humor." Her Ladyship quieted.
Sir Thomas smiled warmly at the scene before him.
The door to the room opened and Edmund walked in. He stopped short when he saw Henry. The room grew tense. Henry rose and bowed to Edmund.
After a moment's hesitation, Edmund stepped forward and extended his hand. "Crawford," he said quietly.
"Edmund," responded Henry, shaking his hand firmly.
Edmund turned to his father. "Father, Mr. Hastings has arrived to discuss the west pastures."
Sir Thomas rose. "Well, Henry, have a safe journey. I hope you will not absent yourself from Mansfield too long." As they shook hands, Sir Thomas said, "Indeed, you will always be a welcome addition to our family."
"Thank you, sir," said Henry unable to meet his gaze. Sir Thomas headed for the door.
Edmund stared at Henry for a few moments. Understanding had dawned and immediately he knew why Henry was going away. Finally, he bowed and quickly turned to join his father.
Henry watched the two men exit the room. As he sat, he met Fanny's eyes. The look she gave him was encouraging, as if to comfort him as she had comforted her aunt earlier.
The servant entered with refreshments and Fanny and Susan busied themselves pouring tea and handing the cups around. Tom and Henry carried the conversation for several minutes. Finally, Henry declared it was time for him to go.
"Oh Mr. Crawford, I hope you will not mind if Fanny sees you out. Tom is still too weak. He must rest," said Lady Bertram.
"Indeed, your Ladyship, I do not mind in the least." He bowed over Lady Bertram's and Mrs. Norris's hands, but kept his hands at his sides when bid goodbye to Maria. He shook hands with Tom and gave a parting wink to Susan, then he offered his arm to Fanny, and the two of them left the room.
At the door, as he was putting on his gloves, Fanny said, "Please do not be concerned over Edmund's hesitation in greeting you. He was only surprised to see you."
"Do not worry about me Fanny. I willingly accept whatever punishment I receive."
She put her hand on his arm. "I am worried about you. You are taking responsibility for something that is not your fault."
He wouldn't meet her eyes.
"Henry," she said softly. He looked up. After several moments, she said, "Do be careful."
"If only to please you," he said with a small smile. He kissed her hand gently, "Good bye, dear Fanny."
With a last glance, he left the house.
During Henry Crawford's absence, Tom continued to mend, Lady Bertram and Susan were becoming closer, Sir Thomas was able to turn his attention more fully to the business of the estate; Mrs. Norris resumed complaining about the housekeeping at the parsonage and Maria talked of the charms of London during the season. Life appeared to return to normal except for Edmund's continued depression. He had not laughed or even cracked a smile in almost two months. He walked alone, rode alone; he confided in no one. He spent many hours reading and studying, either in the library or his bed chamber.
Tom and Fanny spent most afternoons walking about the Park. They got to know each other much better than they had as children. Tom began to understand and appreciate Fanny's steady character. She in turn came to understand his restless nature. She encouraged him to spend more time with his father, learning the business of Mansfield.
"After all, Tom, one day you will be responsible for the estate."
"I know," he said. "I just have little interest in the business part of things. It all seems so dull."
"Life is not all about races and hunters," she teased.
He smiled. "I suppose if it were I should find that dull after a time."
"A long time," she responded.
"A VERY long time," he said with a chuckle.
They walked in silence for several minutes.
"What do you make of Edmund these days?"
Fanny did not respond right away. "Have you talked to him," she finally asked.
Tom shook his head. "He always looks so glum that I have not attempted it." He looked at her. "I thought perhaps that you might have spoken with him. The two of you have always been so close."
Fanny sighed. "We have not had a conversation of more than ten words over the last two months. Like you, I have not chanced bringing it up."
"I would have thought he would have got over her by now. She was pretty and lively enough, I suppose. But there are plenty of those types of women. I always imagined that Edmund would marry someone more like you."
"Did you?" said Fanny praying her expression remained disinterested.
"Yes. Not that you aren't pretty, for you are, it is just that you have a keen mind, a reading mind. I always fancied that Edmund would want a wife who could match his interest in books and such. I do not think I ever heard Mary Crawford discuss literature or anything serious for that matter."
"No," said Fanny, "nor I."
"Well, I suppose we shall just have to leave him to himself."
A few days later, Fanny entered the library to return the volume of poetry she had been reading to Lady Bertram. Edmund was standing by one of the windows, staring out across the park, a torn piece of newspaper in his hands.
"Oh, Edmund, forgive me. I did not realize you were here."
"It is alright Fanny," he said quietly.
She replaced the book and moved to leave.
"Fanny," he said, "will you stay a moment?"
"Of course," she came to stand next to him.
He did not speak for several minutes. "She is married." His voice was little more than a whisper. He offered her the piece of paper.
Fanny read over the announcement of Mary's wedding. "I am sorry, Edmund."
"I kept hoping it was just a bad dream. Every morning, I awoke expecting to find that it was just a dream. But it was not a dream."
"I have truly lost her."
Fanny was silent.
"I had decided that once Tom had recovered I would ask her to marry me."
"Please, do not--"
"Fanny," he cut her off, "I was going to give up the church. I had decided to talk to my father about going into the law. To please her; to make her happy." He shook his head. "But I was too late."
"I know I have disappointed you. But I would have done anything for her...anything."
Fanny stood in silent shock seeing for the first time how much Edmund loved Mary Crawford.
He took the paper from her. "The deed is done," he said looking once more at the announcement. He crumpled the paper and tossed it aside.
After several moments of silence, Edmund said, "I have decided to live at Thornton Lacey. I shall be removing to the parsonage there in a fortnight."
"What," exclaimed Fanny breathlessly.
"I am leaving Mansfield. I can not bear to remain here."
"No, Fanny." He shook his head sadly, "I am going. I shall not change my mind." He retrieved the piece of newspaper and slowly smoothed it out. "There will never be another woman to whom I will give my heart. I will remain a bachelor until I die." He folded the paper and put it in his breast pocket. "I must go to my father." He quitted the room, leaving Fanny staring after him in shock.
Posted on August 22, 2008
Fanny sat alone in her room staring out into the darkness. She had excused herself after dinner, complaining of a headache. She could not have born Aunt Norris's comments on Edmund's plans, or anything else for that matter.
Sir Thomas had announced Edmund's plans just as they were finishing dinner. Lady Bertram was immediately anxious; Tom and Susan only looked shocked. Aunt Norris, however...Fanny could tell that she would have plenty to say after the meal. After seeing them all settled in the drawing room, Fanny quit the room.
For the last few hours, she had been thinking about Edmund. His decision to leave Mansfield had come as a shock to her. Up until the minute that he told her, she had always believed that he would recover from his disappointment over Mary Crawford.
Her conversation with Tom came back to her, his surprise over Edmund's choice in Mary Crawford.
Fanny thought she knew Edmund so well. Was she mistaken? Could he have changed so drastically?
When Mary first arrived at Mansfield, Edmund had admitted her beauty; he had even attempted to make excuses for her faults of character. And now, to know that Edmund had been willing to give up his chosen profession to please her...Fanny was so disappointed.
There was a tap at her door.
"Come in," she said, drawing her wrap around her.
It was Tom. He entered and sat in one of the old school chairs. "How are you feeling, Fanny? Is your headache any better?"
"Yes, thank you. I only needed quiet and solitude."
"You definitely would not have gotten that downstairs." He shook his head. "It is a wonder my father tolerates it as he does. Aunt Norris and Maria could drive a man insane with their constant chatter."
She smiled in response.
After a few moments, Tom said, "So Edmund is resigned to being a life long bachelor."
"He spoke to you," said Fanny.
"Yes, after dinner."
"Did he tell Sir Thomas?"
Tom shook his head. "No. He advised him of the plan to remove to Thornton Lacey, but nothing else."
Fanny nodded. "I had not thought Edmund would take it this hard."
"No, nor I." Tom stood and wandered about the room. "I tried to talk to him. I told him not to waste his life mourning a woman who obviously had so little affection for him." He threw his hands up in exasperation. "But he just sat there. No anger. No emotion what so ever." He sat back down. "It is as though something inside him has died."
"He has not laughed or even smiled for weeks."
"I fear he will never recover."
"I am beginning to agree with you."
Again silence enveloped them. Finally, Tom stood. "I will say good night." As Tom reached the door, he turned, "I forgot to tell you. Father said that Crawford has returned."
Fanny smiled slightly.
"I thought that might give you some pleasure." He hesitated. "You could not find a better fellow, Fanny. The two of you would suit very well."
Fanny blushed and looked away.
He grinned. "Sleep well, Fanny." He quitted the room.
Fanny was pleased that Henry had returned. She had missed him. She gazed out the window and remembered a time when Henry had stood outside her window in the moonlight waiting for her to look out at him. She smiled in remembrance. When she had spotted him, he had bowed in a regal fashion. At the time, she had not welcomed his attentions. Would you welcome them now? her heart asked. She reached out and touched the cool glass. "Perhaps," she whispered.
After two days, Henry had still not called at Mansfield. Fanny had been hoping for a reason to call at the parsonage, so when Tom suggested they walk in that direction for their afternoon exercise, she agreed readily.
The distance to the parsonage was much longer than Tom's previous excursions. They were still some distance from the house when Fanny asked, "Are you fatigued, Tom? Do you wish to turn back?"
"I am not at all fatigued. I thought we might call at the parsonage. Inquire after Crawford's trip to London."
"If you wish," she responded.
"If I wish," he said with a teasing smile, "it is what you wish."
She smiled and blushed.
As it turned out, they met Henry before reaching the parsonage. He had just returned from the village. When he saw Tom and Fanny walking, he altered his course and joined them.
After exchanging greetings, they walked towards the parsonage garden.
"Did your journey go well?" asked Tom.
"As well as can be expected," said Henry.
They chatted about the weather and the countryside until they reached a bench under a large tree in the garden.
"Fanny," said Tom, "I find that I am rather tired." Before she could respond, he said, "Would you mind if I waited for you here while you do your errand in the village. Perhaps Mr. Crawford will attend you."
Fanny caught the mischievous glint in his eye. She began to say that her "errand" could wait, but Henry spoke first.
"I would be happy to accompany your cousin." He turned to Fanny and offered her his arm. "Miss Price."
"Thank you, Mr. Crawford," she said taking his arm. She looked at Tom with a playful glare, "We shall return in a few minutes."
"Take your time," he said, ignoring her look, "I shall remain here and enjoy the fine weather.
Once they were away from Tom, Henry said in a light, teasing tone, "Did you miss me, Fanny?"
"Of course," she said matching his tone.
"Did you really," he said with surprise.
She looked at him a moment, then looked away, suddenly shy. "Yes," she said simply.
He smiled in satisfaction. "So what errand do we undertake? Something for your Aunt Norris I would wager."
"You will be scandalized to find that there is no errand. My cousin made it up."
"I shall have to thank him for that." In a more serious tone, Henry said, "You did not object?"
"No," she responded, turning his face away.
He was content with her answer, only because he had seen her smile
After a few minutes, she said gently, "Shall I ask about your journey?"
His only response was a sigh.
"You need not tell me."
"No, Fanny, you are the only person I feel I can tell." He paused to collect his thoughts. "When I arrived in London, I was somewhat surprised to find that Mary was not as happy with her betrothal as I would have expected. As soon as I was able to speak privately with her, I questioned her about the matter. I found that she still harbors a strong affection for Edmund."
Fanny's brow furrowed. "Then why," she began.
"I asked the very same question, although in much more animated language. Mary had so convinced herself that Edmund would inherit Mansfield or at the least that she would be able to convince him to change his choice of vocation to something that would bring fame and notoriety that when neither happened, she foolishly accepted the proposal of the first man who would provide what she wanted. Though she loves Edmund, she did not believe that she could ever be happy with him if they lived in quiet anonymity." He shook his head. "I told her she was being selfish. I tried to convince her that her love for Edmund and his for her would overcome her fears. She would not listen. We argued...rather violently. At first I refused to attend the wedding, but my uncle convinced me to stay. I left immediately following the ceremony. I could not stand in room full of well wishers knowing that my sister's marriage was a farce."
Fanny squeezed his arm slightly. "I am sorry for you...and for her."
"I fear Mary will regret her decision. She may even come to despise her husband."
"What sort of man is Lord Hampshire?"
"Not a bad fellow. I gather he enjoys the luxury of being an Earl though he does not enjoy the responsibility so well. His mother directs much of the business of the estate. Mary will have her work cut out for her."
They reached the far edge of the village and turned back.
"How is Edmund," asked Henry.
"He is leaving Mansfield," said Fanny.
"He will remove to Thornton Lacey within the week." She paused. "He is determined to never marry. While you were in London, he told me that he had determined to give up the church and go into law."
Henry stopped; his arms falling to his sides. "For Mary?"
Fanny nodded. "He is changed, Henry. He is not the same man."
Henry ran his hand across his face. "It would have been better if we had never come to Mansfield. That your family should suffer because of us."
Fanny took his arm and resumed walking. "Your sister and my cousin are of age. They alone are responsible for their actions. You are not to blame."
He covered her hand with his own. "You are too good, Fanny."
They walked in silence until they reached the parsonage. When Tom saw them, he rose and joined them. Henry would have relinquished Fanny's arm to her cousin, but Tom said, "Join us for tea, Crawford. I am sure you would be a welcome addition to our party."
"From what Miss Price has told me of Edmund, I do not think I would be," said Henry.
Tom brushed him off, "My father does not hold you responsible and my brother...well, Edmund is full grown."
Fanny gave Henry a look that said "I told you so."
"Very well," he said with a smile. The three of them walked towards Mansfield.
A few days later, Edmund left for Thornton Lacey. He bid farewell to his parents, aunt and sister then turned to Fanny and Tom.
"Fanny, I leave Tom to your care. And I expect you," he said looking at his brother, "to watch over Fanny."
They both nodded. Edmund shook hands with his brother then hugged Fanny. Without another word, he entered the carriage and it pulled away. The others returned to the house, but Tom and Fanny stood watching as the carriage made its way towards Edmund's new home.
"Do you think he will be all right?" asked Fanny softly.
"Perhaps a change of scenery and society will improve his spirits."
"I hope so."
"Cheer up, Fanny," said Tom leading her into the house. "I have something to tell you that will bring a smile to your face." He paused.
"Yes," she said expectantly.
"I had a long talk with father last night. I believe we understand each other much better. And...today begins my education in the business of Mansfield."
Fanny smiled. "Mansfield could be in no better hands."
"Do you truly mean that?" he said in surprise.
"I do. You are intelligent and clever, full of energy. And you love your home and family. What better combination of resources could the future Sir Thomas want?"
He squeezed her hand that was in the crook of his arm. "Thank you, Fanny. I hope I will not disappoint father...or you.
Posted on August 28, 2008
Over the next few days, Tom spent many hours with his father learning the business of Mansfield. He visited tenants; he met with the steward and the housekeeper to review the accounts. He learned to look upon the estate as more than shelter and sustenance, he found it was a living entity supplying much to many. He learned to respect his father and he gained understanding into his father's character. For Sir Thomas, he was finally able to live out a promise from Tom's childhood. When he was a small boy, Tom had constantly begged his father for a mission. Sir Thomas would send him off with notes for his mother or the servants, but Tom wanted a "noble mission." That request was finally being fulfilled, for Tom would have the noble mission of maintaining life at Mansfield Park.
With Tom's new occupation, Fanny had more time to herself. She spent some of it with her sister, but much of it was spent in quiet reflection either in her room or walking in the garden. Over and over again, she replayed the last several months since the Crawfords had come to Mansfield. From the day they arrived to her conversation with Edmund the day he told her he was leaving Mansfield. She reviewed every interaction she had witnessed between Edmund and Mary; every conversation she, herself, had had with each of them. Fanny could only come to the conclusion that either Edmund's very character had been reshaped under Mary's influence or that she had never really known him at all.
Somehow, Henry was aware of what Fanny was going through. He had seen her walking the Park, but he did not intrude on her solitude. He visited regularly and was his usual charming, cheerful self. He even spent time with Sir Thomas and Tom asking their advice on business pertaining to his own estate in Norfolk.
Fanny also spent time thinking about Henry. She could not be blind; he had truly changed. He was more serious, more thoughtful, yet he still had a cheerful and sometimes playful side to him. And she was sure he loved her. The expression in his eyes when he looked at her; the tender way he spoke to her when they were alone. She knew she had only to say the word and he would be hers. And all of a sudden it became apparent to her that she wanted to be his. She had fallen in love with him, but even more she had come to like him, to respect him, to trust him.
As she entered the house after one of her walks, Baddely met her and informed her that Mr. Crawford was waiting for her in the library. She could not help the smile or the blush that accompanied it.
When she entered the room, Henry was standing at the window gazing out across the park.
"Henry," she said with a smile. As she crossed the room, she said, "Why are you here by yourself? I am sure my aunt would be happy to have you entertain her this afternoon."
Henry turned as she approached. His serious demeanor caused the smile to leave her face.
"What is it," she said coming to stand next to him.
"I must travel to Everingham," he said with a gloomy expression. "I had a letter from my steward concerning several items of business that must be attended to."
"How long will you be away," asked Fanny trying unsuccessfully to hide her disappointment.
"I do not know," he said. "A fortnight, perhaps longer."
"I see," she replied turning away.
"Will you miss me," he said trying to force his voice to be cheerful.
She did not answer right away.
"Fanny," he said coming to stand just behind her.
Turning around to face him, she said softly, "Ask me again."
His face registered confusion. "Ask you a..." his voice died away as the full impact of her words became clear. His expression was at once hopeful and hesitant.
She looked up into his eyes. "When you first asked me to allow you to be my friend, I admit that I did so reluctantly. I felt it was a worthless effort." She shrugged her shoulders. "I was wrong. I have spent these last weeks examining you from every vantage point available. I have seen what I sincerely believe is your true self." She smiled. "I told you then that you were charming; I can now add kind and compassionate, and I say with all honestly that I am honored to be your friend." She paused. "You told me in Portsmouth that I would learn to love you." She sighed. "I have." She gave an impish smile, "So, ask me again."
He took her hand and kissed it gently. "Dearest Fanny," he said softly. "Will you be my wife, my partner, my very life itself?"
"I will," she responded simply. A tear slipped down her face and he reached to wipe it away, much as he had done that day in Portsmouth. This time, Fanny did not step away. Instead, she leaned her face into his hand, savoring the warmth of his skin.
"Say it, please," he said softly.
"I love you, Henry," she whispered.
The joy that filled his eyes overflowed in tears of his own. He slowly leaned down and touched her lips with his own.
"Shall we go to my uncle," said Fanny, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.
"In a moment," he said. "Let me have you to myself for a little longer." He pulled her to him once more.
Finally he drew back, "As much as I would wish to continue thusly, I believe we should talk to your uncle."
She smiled and allowed him to lead her to the door of Sir Thomas' study.
"Henry," she held back a moment. "May I speak to him alone for a few minutes?"
"Of course," he said. She touched her fingers to her lips and then to his.
She slid the door of Sir Thomas' study open just enough to squeeze through. "May I have a few minutes of your time, sir," she asked.
"Of course, my dear," came the older man's response. Fanny closed the door and went to stand in front of his desk.
"Will you not sit," said Sir Thomas.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"What is it that brings you to me?"
"You may be surprised to hear, sir, that I have just this hour accepted Mr. Crawford's offer of marriage."
Sir Thomas smiled.
"I know this will appear inconsistent with my previous refusal, but I assure you that I love him. Indeed, I love him very deeply.
Sir Thomas stood and walked around the desk to stand in front of her. He stood looking at her for a moment, then leaned down and very gently kissed her forehead. "You have made me very happy, Fanny."
"Thank you, sir," she blushed and dropped her eyes.
"Is Mr. Crawford still here?"
"Yes, sir, he is waiting to speak with you," she started to rise but he stayed her and moved to the door. Sliding it open, he welcomed Henry into the room. Henry's eyes darted between Sir Thomas and Fanny.
After directing Henry to sit and resuming his place behind his desk, Sir Thomas said, "Henry, Fanny tells me that she would like to marry you."
"Yes, sir," he looked at Fanny with a tender smile, "and I should dearly love to marry her."
"You have shown your constancy to her," said Sir Thomas. He did not seem to notice Henry wince or Fanny blush at the word. "I give you both my blessing. I hope you shall be very happy."
"Thank you, sir," said Henry trying to smile. He looked at Fanny, "Sir Thomas, if Miss Price would not mind, I would like to speak with you alone?"
Fanny rose, unable to look at either gentleman. "I shall be in the library."
The men stood as Fanny left the room. Once the door closed behind her, they took their seats.
"I suppose you wish to discuss the settlement," began Sir Thomas. "As you may have discerned from your visit to Portsmouth, Fanny's father has nothing to give her. That is why I have decided to give her a dowry of five thousand pounds."
"That is very generous of you," began Henry.
"She is a good girl and has been a blessing to this family."
"Yes, sir," Henry tried again to speak. "However, that is not what I wished to discuss with you."
"What is it then?"
"When I first came to Mansfield, I must confess I was of an idle nature and did not think much on serious things."
"That comes with age, Henry."
"Yes, but being an idle young man, and meeting your daughters...I...did not...conduct myself...as I should."
Sir Thomas stared back, his expression unreadable.
"I did not compromise either of your daughters...but I must admit that I did flirt with the Miss Bertrams...even though I knew of Miss Maria Betram's betrothal."
In a low, emotionless voice, Sir Thomas said, "Did my daughters respond to your attentions?"
Henry began to decline to comment, but the expression on the older man's face stopped him. "They did, sir." He paused. "It was a playful flirtation. I am ashamed that I behaved in such a way. I believe that I have matured. And I assure you of my complete devotion to Miss Price.
Sir Thomas did not say anything for several minutes. A thought occurred to him, "Was Fanny aware of this ‘playful flirtation'?"
"And was this why she originally refused your offer of marriage?"
He nodded. "She had witnessed my behavior and did not trust me. She accused me, rightly so, of being inconstant. When you declared that I had shown my constancy to Fanny..." He shook his head. "I could not go on without telling you of my poor behavior in the past."
"Why did she not explain this to me at the time?"
"I can only suppose that she did not wish to speak ill of your daughters."
Sir Thomas shook his head sadly. "I have been blind to Fanny's goodness for too long."
After a few minutes, Sir Thomas stood. "Will you join us for dinner, Henry? And the Grants? I will announce your betrothal at that time if you wish."
Seeing Henry's surprised expression, he continued, "While I can not condone your behavior, I can not judge you. Indeed, the behavior of my own family forbids it." He walked around to the front of the desk. Extending his hand he added, "We have all matured over these past months. It is now time to begin again."
Henry stood and shook hands with the older man. "Thank you, sir. I will do everything in my power to make Fanny happy."
"I know you will. Now, go to her. Perhaps she would wish to accompany you to extend the invitation to the Grants."
Henry smiled and quit the room.
True to her word, Fanny was in the library. She did not hear him enter, so he paused a moment, content just to watch her. She stood in the window gazing out into the park.
Finally he said, "Miss Price," she turned to him with a smile, "Sir Thomas has invited the Grants and myself to dine with him this evening. Would you do me the honor of walking with me to the parsonage to extend the invitation?
"I would be very happy to join you, Mr. Crawford." When she met him at the door, he could not resist the opportunity to kiss her again.
Shaking his head, he said softly, "I can not yet believe that you are to be my wife."
She took his face in her hands. "You may believe it. I love you, Henry."
He circled her waist with his hands and pulled her closer. Hesitating only briefly, he covered her lips with his own. She responded by slipping her arms around his neck and returning his passion.
When the kiss ended, Henry said with a mischievous glint in his eye, "I hope you do not wish for a long engagement."
"Perhaps Dr. Grant would be willing to perform the ceremony after dinner," she replied with a saucy grin.
They left the house and slowly walked towards the parsonage.
"Dare I ask what you and Sir Thomas were discussing," she said playfully.
"I confessed to him my behavior towards Maria and Julia when I first arrived at Mansfield."
Fanny was stunned. "What did he say?"
Henry nodded. "He was most forgiving. He admitted that his own family has not been with out fault...excepting you, of course," he added with a smile. "Knowing that you bore his anger and disappointment without betraying his daughters' behavior humbled him, I think. He now knows the depth of your devotion to his family."
Fanny was silent.
As they walked on Henry said, "Fanny, what would you think if I were to sell Everingham and buy an estate near Mansfield."
"Why ever would you do that?"
"Mansfield has been your home. You've passed the greatest part of your life here. I thought perhaps you would not want to be so far away."
She stopped. "You would give up your home, the place where you grew up, simply to please me?"
He put his hands on her shoulders. "From the moment you agreed to be my wife, my entire existence has been and will always be to please you."
She brought her hand up to his face. "It is true that I have long considered Mansfield my home. I have for the most part enjoyed my life here." She paused and gazed back at the house. "I love Mansfield because it is where I grew up." She looked into Henry's eyes. "But I love Everingham because it is your home. And I would like to make it my home as well."
He smiled, took her hand and kissed the palm. "Then I suppose my next question should be whether you want to invite Susan to visit or would you prefer to have her live with us."
She smiled widely. "It would give me great pleasure to have Susy in our home."
"Then it shall be as you wish," he replied.
They finally reached the parsonage and relayed Sir Thomas' invitation to the Grants. Dr Grant accepted, thinking only of the fine dinner they would have, but Mrs. Grant noticed the light in Henry's eyes and the blush on Fanny's cheek. She checked her smile, but inside she was delighted.
Fanny and Henry took their time returning to Mansfield and arrived just as the Grants did. They all entered the house together and joined the family in the sitting room.
Sir Thomas stood at the head of the table gazing at those gathered. Lady Bertram sat opposite him at the foot of the table. Tom sat to his right followed by Susan, Mrs. Norris then Dr Grant. He had Fanny placed at his left, then Henry, Mrs. Grant and Maria.
"My dear family and friends," said Sir Thomas to gain everyone's attention. "I am so glad you could all be here as I have an announcement." He looked at Fanny. "Many years ago, a little girl came to live at Mansfield. She was shy, awkward and, I dare say, quite frightened. She has grown into a handsome, steady young woman whom I am very proud of. So it is with great pleasure that I inform you all of Fanny's betrothal to Mr. Henry Crawford."
With a tender smile at the couple, Sir Thomas said, "Please raise your glasses to Henry and Fanny."
"Here, here," cried Tom raising his glass. As the others exclaimed and voiced their congratulations, Henry took Fanny's hand and kissed it.
After everyone toasted the young couple, Henry stood, "If I may, Sir Thomas." At the elder man's nod, Henry continued, "I would like to propose a toast to Sir Thomas for without his friendship and that of his family, my life would be very different." He turned to Fanny. "And with out his niece, my future would be bleak indeed." He lifted his glass. "To Sir Thomas."
The other's echoed the toast.
During dinner, conversation centered mostly on Fanny and Henry. Lady Bertram renewed her offer of a puppy from pug's next litter. Mrs. Grant kept exclaiming how she new something was up when the couple came to deliver the dinner invitation. Susy kept smiling at Fanny and Henry and sighing. Only Maria and Mrs. Norris were silent. Mrs. Norris attacked her plate with a ferocity that suggested she regarded the chicken as her enemy. Maria on the other hand sat with a sulky expression pushing her food around her plate.
When the party moved into the sitting room, more personal congratulations were extended to the couple. Lady Bertram kissed Fanny's cheek in a motherly fashion. Tom hugged Fanny and clapped Crawford on the back while shaking his hand. Mrs. Grant hugged them both and Dr. Grant pressed Fanny's hand and offered to perform the ceremony. Susy hugged her sister tightly.
Mrs. Norris offered congratulations of a sort. She told Mr. Crawford she hoped he would not be disappointed with his choice. To Fanny she merely nodded. Once she moved away, Fanny and Henry exchanged a smile.
Sir Thomas, having already expressed his pleasure to the couple, stood by the fireplace smiling. His smile dimmed as his eyes fell on his eldest daughter. Maria entered the room, bypassing her cousin and Mr. Crawford and taking a seat.
Once the others settled and conversations began, Fanny and Henry sat in the window seat.
"I must still travel to Everingham," said Henry with a frown. "I can put off my journey a day or two, but I can not postpone it for long."
"I understand estate business well enough to know it is necessary," said Fanny.
"Shall I bring you a present," he asked with smile.
"Only yourself," she replied.
Sir Thomas' voice interrupted them. "How soon do you wish to be married, Henry," said he.
"As soon as possible," said Henry. "I had thought to write to Mr. Price to obtain his and Mrs. Price's blessing. And of course, I must speak with the Admiral. I have business at my estate which I must attend to in the next few days. I will stop in London on my way to Norfolk to advise him of my plans."
"London," exclaimed Maria. "Then perhaps you would be so kind as to escort me back to Wimpole Street, Mr. Crawford."
Tom stared at his sister in shock.
Maria assumed an innocent air. "We are to be cousins; surely there can be nothing improper in our traveling together."
Sir Thomas' expression went from mortification to anger, but before he could speak, Henry said in a civil tone, "I would be happy to escort you, Mrs. Rushworth, but I am afraid I shall be traveling on horseback."
"But surely for family you would be willing to change your plans and use your carriage."
"I wish to conclude my business and return to Mansfield," he looked at Fanny and smiled, "as quickly as possible. I can travel much quicker on horseback."
"Come now," Maria began only to be cut off by her father.
"Maria," he said sharply. "Since you wish to return to town, I shall accompany you there, myself."
A look of horror crossed Maria's face. "I would not wish to inconvenience you, sir," she said.
"There will be no inconvenience. I have some business matters that I can attend to." He gave his daughter a look that told her all was settled. "I am sure you will not mind housing your father for a few days."
"Of course not, father. I shall be delighted," she replied haltingly.
"Good," said Sir Thomas. "Now," he continued turning back to Henry, "we still need to settle the date of your wedding. Fanny, what is your desire?"
"I agree with Mr. Crawford, sir. I should like to marry as soon as it is convenient for everyone."
"When do you expect to return, Henry?"
"If all goes as planned, within a fortnight."
Sir Thomas was thoughtful. "Would you be willing to wait six weeks? That would allow me to conclude my business in town. After I return, I could send the carriage to retrieve your family, Fanny."
Fanny was not sure how to answer. She was torn between avoiding the unpleasant clash that would surely occur between her family and their more refined relations and not having her mother present at her wedding.
"I confess my thoughts had not yet turned to all the arrangements that must be made."
"Well, we would not want your parents to miss your wedding," he replied. "I believe we could receive them here at Mansfield in a month's time. If you will compose a letter to your mother, I will have it sent express so that they may prepare for the journey."
"Thank you, sir," said Fanny in a slightly subdued tone.
Henry noticed her hesitation but said nothing.
"What about wedding clothes," continued Sir Thomas. "I am sure you will need some new things."
"That is not necessary, sir. I have sufficient clothing."
"Nonsense," said her uncle, "The niece of Sir Thomas Bertram will not be married in everyday clothes." He appealed to his wife, "My dear, perhaps you or your maid will assist Fanny in determining what clothes she will need to order."
"Of course, my love," came the lethargic response. "I will write specific instructions and Chapman can attend her to the shops."
"You see Fanny," said Sir Thomas turning back to her, "all will be arranged."
"You and Lady Bertram are too kind," began Fanny.
"Not at all, my dear," he responded, his voice somewhat tender. "It is no less than you deserve."
The servants entered the room with tea and dessert and Sir Thomas went to be with his guests.
Once everyone's attention was engaged elsewhere, Henry said, "Are you distressed about your family coming to Mansfield?"
"You have met my family, Henry. You have seen their 'best' manners." She sighed. "I fear that unpleasant scenes may occur."
"Fanny, those who love you will not be swayed from their affection because of your family." He smiled. "As you say, I have seen their best manners and I still love you."
Fanny smiled warmly in response.
Unbeknownst to them, Maria had been attending their conversation. At Henry's declaration, she could stand no more. She stood, bid good night to everyone and left the room.
The Grants, Sir Thomas and Mrs. Norris played cards while the young people entertained Lady Bertram (when she wasn't dozing) with their conversation.
When the hour grew late, the Grants and Henry departed.
As Fanny and Susy were going to their room, they were met by Maria in the hall.
"Fanny," Maria said, "could I talk to you?"
With trepidation, Fanny agreed. Susy went on and Fanny entered Maria's room.
"I just thought we might have a chat," said Maria indicating that Fanny should sit. "I flatter myself that I am somewhat like a sister to you." Fanny was silent. "And since I am already married, I thought you might have questions that I could answer."
"Questions," said Fanny with a furrowed brow.
"Yes, you know, about running a household, dealing with servants, managing your husband," she finished with a smile.
"I am afraid," said Fanny, "that I have not had a chance to consider everything you have mentioned."
"If you expect to marry in six weeks," said Maria, "you shall have to consider it rather quickly." She paused a moment. "A man like Henry Crawford will expect his wife to run his household efficiently. As well as attend to his every need," she added with a pointed look.
Fanny stood. "I find that I am suddenly very tired. Please excuse me." She would have left the room but Maria stopped her.
"Fanny, I did not mean to embarrass you, but surely you are not unaware of a wife's duty to her husband."
"What you speak of as a duty, I have always supposed would be a pleasure between a husband and wife who truly love each other," she could not resist adding, "as Henry and I do."
Maria dropped all pretense of being friendly. "Do not deceive yourself. Men like Henry Crawford do not love, they lust. And once that lust is fulfilled in one quarter, they will seek it somewhere else."
Fanny shook her head sadly. "I am sorry you think so, Maria." She turned and quitted the room
Posted on September 8, 2008
Posted on September 13, 2008
The following morning, Mrs. Norris did not appear for breakfast as was her custom. While this surprised the household, it by no means upset them. Lady Bertram was never an early riser so the three young people enjoyed a long breakfast. Once Tom excused himself to attend to estate business, Fanny and Susan had the luxury of time together without being interrupted by Mrs. Norris' self serving errands or Lady Bertram's inane tasks.
"Fanny," said Susy, "may I ask you a question?"
"Did you accept Mr. Crawford because Edmund is heartbroken and has gone away?"
Fanny was glad there were no servants in the room. "No," she said calmly. "I confess that for a long time I harbored the hope that Edmund and I might..." She trailed off when the door opened and a servant entered. "Why do we not take a stroll in the garden?"
Susy readily agreed and the two girls quickly collected their wraps and walked out of the house. Once they reached the garden, Fanny spoke. "I was very disappointed in Edmund. I never imagined that he would not be able to overcome his disappointment and that he would wallow in despair. It caused me to consider how he would respond to the situations that marriage would bring. I found that I could not respect him as a wife ought to respect her husband."
"And what of Mr. Crawford? You did not respect him in Portsmouth."
"No, I did not," said Fanny with a pained expression. "I did not approve of his behavior to Maria and Julia. He appeared inconstant and was not serious about anything."
"Surely you do not fee that way now?"
Fanny smiled. "No, my feelings have changed dramatically. I took the time to know him better. And he has become more mature, more serious about his responsibilities."
"Are you not afraid that he may be acting?"
"This will sound terribly immodest of me, but Henry has never been able to fool me. From the first moment I met him, I have always been aware of when he was acting and when he was not. I know that he not only loves me but he will not waiver in his devotion to me."
They turned and began walking back to the house.
Susy sighed heavily. "I shall miss you terribly once you are married and gone to Norfolk."
Fanny smiled. "Then I suppose you shall have to come with us."
Susy stopped walking and looked at her sister with wide eyes. "You are teasing me," she finally said.
"Indeed I am not. Henry and I discussed this before he left. If it would please you, you are welcome to live with us at Everingham."
"Oh Fanny," she exclaimed. "I would love it above all things." She danced around before throwing her arms around Fanny.
They entered the house just as Lady Bertram was coming down the steps. The girls greeted their aunt cheerfully. Susy took pug and went into the sitting room while Fanny accompanied Lady Bertram into the breakfast room.
Once her ladyship had a cup of tea and a plate before her, Fanny poured a cup of tea for herself and sat down.
"So my sister has not called this morning," said Lady Bertram.
"No, ma'am," replied Fanny with lowered eyes.
"It may be a few days before she returns."
Fanny did not answer.
"Perhaps Tom was a little too harsh last night."
"I am so sorry, Aunt Bertram," said Fanny in a rush.
"Why should you be sorry? Tom was the one who rebuked her."
"It was on my account."
"Fanny," said her ladyship, "you have borne my sister Norris' mistreatment for far too long. It was time that someone put a stop to it." Of course, it did not seem to occur to her that she could have curtailed Mrs. Norris behavior long ago.
"Shall we join, Susan," said her ladyship rising from the table.
"Of course," replied Fanny joining her.
The rest of the day passed in relative calm and quiet. As long as Lady Bertram remained awake, Fanny and Susan took turns reading aloud. Once she drifted off to sleep, the girls moved to the other end of the room and talked quietly.