The loveliness of the day, and of the view, he felt like herself. They often stopt with the same sentiment and taste, leaning against the wall, some minutes, to look and admire; and considering he was not Edmund, Fanny could not but allow that he was sufficiently open to the charms of nature, and very well able to express his admiration. She had a few tender reveries now and then, which he could sometimes take advantage of to look in her face without detection; and the result of these looks was, that though as bewitching as ever, her face was less blooming than it ought to be. She _said_ she was very well, and did not like to be supposed otherwise; but take it all in all, he was convinced that her present residence could not be comfortable, and therefore could not be salutary for her, and he was growing anxious for
her being again at Mansfield, where her own happiness, and his in seeing her, must be so much greater.
"You have been here a month, I think?" said he.
"No; not quite a month. It is only four weeks to-morrow since I left Mansfield."
"You are a most accurate and honest reckoner. I should call that a month."
"I did not arrive here till Tuesday evening."
"And it is to be a two months' visit, is not?"
"Yes. My uncle talked of two months. I suppose it will not be less."
"And how are you to be conveyed back again? Who comes
"I do not know. I have heard nothing about it yet from my aunt. Perhaps I may be to stay longer. It may not be convenient for me to be fetched exactly at the two months' end."
After a moment's reflection, Mr. Crawford replied, "I know Mansfield, I know its way, I know its faults towards _you_. I know the danger of your being so far forgotten, as to have your comforts give way to the imaginary convenience of any single being in the family. I am aware that you may be left here week after week, if Sir Thomas cannot settle everything for coming himself, or sending your aunt's maid for you, without involving the slightest alteration of the arrangements which he may have laid down for the next quarter of a year. This will not do. Two months is an ample allowance; I should think six weeks quite enough. I am considering your sister's health," said he, addressing himself to Susan, "which I think the confinement of Portsmouth unfavourable to. She requires constant air and exercise. When you know her as well as I do, I am sure you will agree that she does, and that she ought never to be long banished from the free air and liberty of the country. If, therefore" (turning again to Fanny), "you find yourself growing unwell, and any difficulties arise about your returning to Mansfield, without waiting for the two months to be ended, _that_ must not be regarded as of any consequence, if you feel yourself at all less strong or comfortable than usual, and will only let my sister know it, give her only the slightest hint, she and I will immediately come down, and take you back to Mansfield. You know the ease and the pleasure with which this would be done. You know all that would be felt on the occasion."
Fanny thanked him, but tried to laugh it off.
"I am perfectly serious," he replied, "as you perfectly know. And I hope you will not be cruelly concealing any tendency to indisposition. Indeed, you shall _not_; it shall not be in your power; for so long only as you positively say, in every letter to Mary, 'I am well,' and I know you cannot speak or write a falsehood, so long only shall you be considered as well."
Fanny thanked him again, but was affected and distressed to a degree that made it impossible for her to say much, or even to be certain of what she ought to say. This was towards the close of their walk. He attended them to the last, and left them only at the door of their own house, when he knew them to be going to dinner, and therefore pretended to be waited for elsewhere.
"I wish you were not so tired," said he, still detaining Fanny after all the others were in the house--"I wish I left you in stronger health. Is there anything I can do for you in town? I have half an idea of going into Norfolk again soon. I am not satisfied about Maddison. I am sure he still means to impose on me if possible, and get a cousin of his own into a certain mill, which I design for somebody else. I must come to an understanding with him. I must make him know that I will not be tricked on the south side of Everingham, any more than on the north: that I will be master of my own property. I was not explicit enough with him before. The mischief such a man does on an estate, both as to the credit of his
employer and the welfare of the poor, is inconceivable. I have a great mind to go back into Norfolk directly, and put everything at once on such a footing as cannot be afterwards swerved from. Maddison is a clever fellow; I do not wish to displace him, provided he does not try to displace _me_; but it would be simple to be duped by a man who has no right of creditor to dupe me, and worse than simple to let him give me a hard-hearted, griping fellow for a tenant, instead of an honest man, to whom I have given half a promise already. Would it not be worse than simple? Shall I go? Do you advise it?"
"I advise! You know very well what is right."
"Yes. When you give me your opinion, I always know what is right. Your judgment is my rule of right."
"Oh, no! do not say so. We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be. Good-bye; I wish you a pleasant journey to-morrow."
"Is there nothing I can do for you in town?"
"Nothing; I am much obliged to you."
Her refusal made him wonder, and he looked at her a moment, before getting the courage to ask, "My dearest, Fanny, why will you not let me help you?"
Fanny looked away, embarrassed at being called his dearest, and unsure of how to answer his question. Glancing up, she noticed him watching her with an intent expression. She opened her mouth to speak, but found the words stuck in her throat.
Henry smiled gently at her, "Please, Fanny, tell me!"
"Nothing," She said softly, barely above a whisper.
"Fanny! Come now, there must be no secrets between us! Please, Fanny?" He held one of her hands lightly, making her look at him. She looked undecided for a moment, until Henry begged, "Please?"
Then, taking a deep breath, she said, "Because, I do not believe you could love me, or any woman. I think you immoral and selfish. I have seen the way you act toward Maria, knowing she was an engaged woman, and have heard of your reputation toward ladies. You cannot tolerate idleness and move onto the next challenge without thought to the consequences of your actions..." she stopped there as her words became more angry.
Refusing to meet his gaze, she stared off in the distance as her words hit Henry with the force of a mallet. Finally hearing her feelings of him made him angry at first, then annoyed, and finallly disppointed. He loved a woman that despised him for past actions, and he hated himself because he knew she was correct in her judgement of him.
They both stood silent for a moment, lost in their own thoughts. Fanny felt horrible for being so cruel in her speech, and angry that Henry had forced her into it. Henry, however, was lost in his own torment. He knew he should be honest with Fanny, and now seemed like the perfect time to tell her of his past.
"Fanny..." Henry began awkwardly. She looked up, confused at the tone of his voice. "I have something I should tell you. It's...not something I have talked about, or even thought about, these last five years. Perhaps, though, it will give you a better understanding of my behavior. Will you allow me to explain?"
Fanny, unselfish creature that she was could not deny the request, no matter how much she thought it would pain her. She nodded for him to for continue.
Henry drew in a breath to begin when Susan popped her head out the door. She looked at the couple questioningly, "Are you coming in for dinner, Fanny? Is Mr. Crawford joining us?"
"No...Susan. That is, Mr. Crawford was just telling me something of importance. Would you please tell Mama to serve dinner. Mr. Crawford and I are going to walk a bit, tell her I shall return in a little while." Fanny smiled sweetly to ease her sister's curiosity.
Nodding, Susan went back into the house, once again leaving Henry and Fanny alone. Henry held his arm out, "Shall we walk then?"
Taking his arm, they began to walk down the street. Henry spotted a bench and led Fanny to it, knowing she was fatigued. Once sitting, he began his story. He started off by telling her about his neighbors as he was growing up, the Howards, and their daughter Emily.
May, Five years ago, Norfolk...
Henry looked at himself in the mirror after his manservant left. This is the day! You're proposing to the woman you love, marry her, providing she consents. And prove the Admiral wrong. Not all women were devious and conniving! Smiling to himself, he left his room and headed down to breakfast.
He rushed through his meal, much to the amusement of his sister, who teased him the entire time. The smile never left his face and soon he was rushing out the door and riding his horse in the direction of Carlisle Manor. Upon his arrival, he was ushered into the Drawing Room to wait for Miss Howard. He paced the room nervously for what seemed like hours before the door opened. In walked a beautiful lady of eighteen, with auburn curls and smiling hazel eyes.
"Mr. Crawford! How good it is to see you, but I must say you are out quite early this morning." She walked toward him gracefully. "Is there any particular reason for such an early venture?"
"No...that is, I mean yes! Of course. Actually I wish to speak with you..." He trailed off as he tried to calm himself. "It is a matter of importance."
She tilted her head slightly and smiled, "Certainly, Mr. Crawford. Would you like some tea? Brand, before we start?"
"Oh, no, that is alright."
Emily sat patiently as Henry paced the room for a few moments without saying a word. "Henry...?"
"What? Oh, yes...Emily, if you doubt my reason for being here, then I shall think I have made quite a mess of things. I love you...Will you consent to be my wife?" He stared at her with a burning gaze as he waited for her reply.
A blush spread across her face as she stood, smiling widely, and said, "Oh, Henry, yes I'll marry you! I love you too."
A boyish grin now appeared on Henry's face as he walked toward her and grasped her hands. "Emily, I have loved you so long! You are the most beautiful woman in the world, and you have made me the happiest of men! I must speak to your father." He kissed her hand then rushed out of the room in search of Mr. Howard.
Mr. Howard was all to happy to grant the request, he had always respected the young Mr. Crawford and had secretly hoped that his daughter would form a union with him. They spent a while talking in Mr. Howard's study before Henry finally returned to the library. The two lovers spent the rest of the day in each others company, now able to openly admit their feelings, and talk on plans for the wedding.
A few days later the engagement was publicly announced and the couple received well wishes from the entire neighborhood. Everyone agreed that they made a handsome couple.
During the next few weeks, the two could hardly be separated, and every waking moment Henry spent as much time at Carlisle that he could. He was visiting there when an express came for Mr. Howard. They had all been having tea when it arrived, and Mr. Howard had the greatest of pleasure to announce the arrival of his godson, John Dawkins. John Dawkins was a handsome man of seven and twenty, who had been enlisted in the Militia until just recently. Apparently, Mr. Dawkins had inherited quite a fortune from his uncle Sir Ingram, and was now the owner of a large estate in Shropshire.
Emily, who had not seen the gentleman in 7 years, asked, "When does he arrive father? Is he staying long?"
"It says here that he is on his way to London, but that he shall be staying for a month or two. He hopes to reacquaint himself with our family." Turning to Henry. "We have not heard from him since the passing of his father almost five years ago. I still keep tabs on him, he is after all my godson, and it will be so good to finally see him again."
The rest of the night was spent in pleasant conversation about the future guest. Little did Henry know how his world would be turned upside down.
The sound of hooves on the gravel alerted the occupants inside of their guest's arrival. Everyone poured out to meet the newcomer with anticipation. Mr. Dawkins stepped down from his carriage with a large grin.
"Ah! Mr. Howard, it is good to see you! And your wife, Harriet, I presume?" Kissing the ladies hand, he turned to Ms. Howard. "And this must be Emily. I would hardly recognize you if it wasn't for those beautiful eyes!" He bowed grandly and kissed her hand also.
Emily blushed and curtseyed. "Mr. Dawkins, welcome to Carlisle Manor. We are happy to have you here with us."
Winking slightly, he stated, "I assure you miss, the pleasure is all mine."
Henry watched this exchange with a scowl. The man was openly flirting with his fiancée, not that Mr. Dawkins knew this, but this fact did not appease Henry any. He stepped up beside Emily possessively, reminding her to introduce them.
"Oh..." she said somewhat flustered. "Mr. Dawkins, I would like you to meet my...fiancé Mr. Henry Crawford. Henry, this is Mr. Dawkins."
Both men noticed her hesitation over the word "fiancé", while Henry was not pleased with this, Mr. Dawkins looked entirely too satisfied. They exchanged cold, civil "How do you do's" and ignored each other after that. If you call glaring at each other with undisguised hate "ignoring". The group went inside, Mr. Dawkins was shown to his room to freshen up, and the rest assembled in the drawing room.
In the drawing room, Mr. and Mrs. Howard happily discussed the arrival of their godson, remarking on his countenance, good looks, and fortune. Henry sat next to Emily on one of the sofas, already more than willing to dislike Mr. Dawkins. He glanced at his fiancée, who sat in silent contemplation. She was chewing on her lip, telling Henry that she was waging some type of battle inside her mind. His eyes narrowed a little, certain he knew the reason behind her distraction, and seething with jealousy.
I shall keep my eye on this Mr. Dawkins. I do not like his flirtatious and charming ways with Emily.
Mr. Dawkins finally entered the room, changed into fresh clothing and cleaned up a bit. Emily smiled at him from across the room, a smile that before then, she had only reserved for fiancé.
Henry's fist curled angrily and he found it amazingly hard to control the urge to pummel the poor fellow into a bloody pulp.
"Ah, John, you do look much refreshed, if a bit tired from your journey. Would you like some Brandy?" Mr. Howard offered and was gratefully accepted. "Do you know how long you shall be staying with us until you head off to London?"
Glancing at Emily, John smiled, "I do believe, sir, that I shall stay here a full two months. If you do not object that is. I find the scenery quite breathtaking around here. The dismal streets of London cannot compare to the beauty found on your estate."
Mr. Howard beamed with pride, quite oblivious to the young man's undertones, "Thank you, John, and we are more than happy to have you with us for two months! Now then, we have arranged a special meal for your welcome, and I am sure you are very hungry after such a long trip."
Everyone adjourned to the dining room, and the entire meal was spent with John telling tales of his day in the Militia, and what he has done to his estate in Shropshire during the last two years. He charmed the entire Howard family, while Henry fumed in silence. Right before his very eyes, another man was trying to seduce his love away from him. His glares went unnoticed by all except Mr. Dawkins, who tipped his wine glass in mock solute. Trying unsuccessfully to regain Emily's attention, Henry became angry and frustrated. Not able to endure the company any longer, Henry excused himself, and claimed a sudden headache.
He swore curse upon curse on Mr. Dawkin's head during the entire ride home. Crashing through the front door, he startled his sister who had just entered the foyer to greet him.
"Henry? Whatever is the matter?" Mary asked, quite confused. Her brother had left this morning, cheerful as ever since his engagement to Miss Howard. This was quite a change from his earlier mood.
Either choosing to ignore her, or just not paying attention, Henry strode past her angrily and slammed into his study. A few thumping noises could be heard beyond the door, then a loud curse, and finally silence. A servant came out to investigate, looking toward Mary for explanation. Receiving a blank look from Miss Crawford the servant went about his business.
Mary neared the door, leaned closely to listen before pulling away and knocking lightly. There was no answer within, so she knocked again, harder this time.
"Go away," came the muffled reply.
"Henry? Please let me in, what has you so upset?" Silence greeted her. Then suddenly the door swung open and Henry motioned her to enter. "Well?"
He ran his hands through his hair. "You know that Mr. Dawkins fellow that was suppose to come visit Mr. Howard?" at Mary's nod he continued. "Well he showed up today, and he was not so subtly flirting with Emily, even after learning she was engaged to me. What's worse, she seemed to enjoy his pathetic advances."
Mary watched her brother pace the room restlessly. She spoke softly, and with an adoring smile for her brother, "Henry, I am sure she meant nothing by it. All women love to be charmed by men, despite being engaged or married. We love the attention and compliments to our beauty and talents. But I know that Miss Howard loves you, and how could she not with such a handsome, sweet, charming man such as yourself. And she is engaged to you, Henry." She moved closer and stroked his face, lovingly. "Do not worry, my love, all will be well!"
Henry smiled wanly at his sister. "I hope you are right sister."
Laughing, she hugged her brother. "Of course I'm right. I'm a woman after all"
This earned a chuckle from her brother, and he replied, "What would I do without you sister? You are too good to me." After returning her embrace, he said he would retire for the night. But sleep would not come. He could not forget the hesitation in Emily's voice as she introduced him, nor Mr. Dawkins mocking salute at the dinner table. It was in the early hours of the morn that Henry finally closed his eyes and slept.
He rode his horse slowly back home, weary and miserable. Reaching home, he handed the horse over to the stable boy and trudged up to the house, dispiritedly. Walking up to his room, he sat at his writing desk, staring blankly at the wall.
"Emily..." He whispered brokenly, then put his face into his hand and wept.
"...knowed that chit was no good the moment I saw 'er. Always flutterin' about the house wi' simperin' sweetness when Master Henry was around. But when he was out of sight, the she devil herself showed. 'N now that new gentleman at Carlisle Manor, seducin' that young child. Quite a scandel, I'm tellin' ye. When the Master finds out, he'll be none to happy 'bout it."
"Oh, no doubt, Nellie, but how'd ya find all this out, anyway?"
"Why, from my niece, Sarah, the Miss Emily's maid. Seems the young miss confided in Sarah, and you know that girl can never keep a secret, and glad I am too. The sooner Master Henry learns of her devious ways the better, I'm thinkin'." Their voices faded into hushed whispers.
Henry's breath was ragged as the information penetrated his foggy thoughts. How? Why would his Emily do something like this to him? He loved her...She loved him... He leaned against the wall for support, picturing Emily's smiling face before him. How happy she had looked when she accepted the proposal. But it was all a lie...and my uncle was right. Women are fickle and untrustworthy creatures.
Just like his heart had shattered from observing Mr. Dawkins and Emily together, it now hardened as her betrayal seeped into his very soul. I'll break the engagement, and I swear I'll never love another woman as long as I live. Pushing himself away from the wall, he set out for Carlisle Manor.
"Where is Miss Howard?" He practically spit the word out as if it were a curse.
The maid gulped nervously and replied. "She's went out for a walk, sir. Toward the gardens..."
Henry ran out the door before she could speak another word. He continued to run until he entered the gardens where he looked around for signs of Emily. Spotting her near a copse of trees, he walked over with determined strides. Emily, however, was caught up in her own daydreams to realize anyone was out there beside herself.
"Miss Howard." He addressed stiffly.
She started, then laughed self-consciously, "Oh, Henry! I did not hear you come up behind me! Oh my, you do look upset. Has something happened? Whatever is the matter? And why are you calling me 'Miss Howard?'"
He almost softened under her gentle questioning, but then he remembered the overheard conversation and drew himself up regally. "Because I no not how else to address you madam."
"Henry..." She approached him, confusion written on her face. "Whatever do you mean?"
He sidestepped her easily as she tried to lay a comforting hand on his arm. "Just tell me this, Emily. Is it true? Have you allowed Mr. Dawkins liberties of your affections?"
Emily gasped as the blood drained from her face. For a moment, Henry's face betrayed the pain he felt, and then he reassumed a closed expression. "I see." Turning, he walked back towards the front of the house.
"Henry! Wait...please let me explain..." Emily chased after him.
"What is there to explain, madam? You have chosen whom you want, and obviously it isn't me. I release you from our engagement...and I hope never to see you again."
"But, Henry...Please. I did not mean for this to happen. I did love you...I did!" Henry thought it sounded like she was trying to convince herself. "But Mr. Dawkins is so...I don't know. Enigmatic, mysterious, courageous...I love him, Henry. Please, don't be angry. You will find a woman to love..."
Henry laughed harshly, "I already have, a lot of good that did me. Good day Miss Howard." He tipped his hat mockingly, mounted his horse, and galloped off to Norfolk.
"After that day, I took care never to cross paths with the Howard family again. Her parents learned of her actions and forced a marriage between the two. Mr. Dawkins never had the intention of marrying Miss Howard, and from what I have heard, it is not a happy marriage. After that, I stayed with my uncle, the Admiral, for a while. Ever since I was a boy, he told me that women were no good. I now felt the same way and began imitating his actions toward them. Almost two years after my broken engagement, Mr. and Mrs. Howard were killed by highwaymen, while traveling to London. Mr. Dawkins sold Carlisle Manor, and I have never seen him or his wife again since"
Fanny was looking down at her hands, the only sign that she was disturbed by this story was the paleness of her complexion.
Henry looked at her with a pleading expression, "I am sorry to pain you with this story of mine and I know this does not excuse my actions, nothing can. But I wanted you to know, that at one time I was an honourable man. I hope to prove to you that I still can be. I beg your forgiveness for my past actions and to at least let me be a friend."
Fanny drew in a shaky breath, and replied, "Mr. Crawford, I believe you need to forgive yourself before you can accept mine. I...I do not know what else to say, I need to think." She looked around frantically, "I should go home. Mr. Crawford, thank you for telling me of this. I am sorry for your loss, I...I really must go."
"Yes, yes, of course, Fan...Miss Price. Thank you for listening to me, I shall escort you home." Fanny took his arm and they walked back toward her home. Henry broke the silence with a request for Fanny, "I know I have asked a lot of you in this last hour. But I must ask you one more thing, if you do find yourself ill, please write to my sister. She can transport you back to Mansfield. I... If you wish me not to go, I shall send a manservant instead."
Fanny looked up at him with astonished eyes. For him to put her comfort ahead of his own was more than surprising. He had always seemed a selfish person with very little care towards another's feelings, but she was starting to see a more vulnerable, gentleman side of Henry. Her thoughts were a scattered mess, and she replied somewhat shakily, "Yes, certainly Mr. Crawford. I thank you for your kindness."
Henry smiled at her, "Anything for you, Miss Price, anything. Ah, here we are. Thank you once again...I hope to meet again soon on better terms. Until then." He kissed her hand, turned and walked quickly away.
In her dreams, she was being chased by Mr. Crawford. Mary followed behind him, and Edmund was pursuing Mary. Fanny made the mistake of looking behind her and tripped over a stick, and went sprawling to the ground. The other three fell on top of her, and began fighting with each other. Henry kept insisting she marry him, Edmund was screaming "NO FANNY DON'T MARRY HIM! YOU HAVE TO BE THERE FOR ME ALWAYS!" and then he turned to Mary, saying "Please marry me! I love you and there is no other woman for me." Mary bit Edmund, yelling, "I'LL NEVER MARRY A STUPID CLERGYMAN!!" Then she helped Fanny up, and told her, "You must marry my brother, Miss Price. He shall not be happy without you." Then everyone vanished and Fanny fell to the ground. Suddenly pug came up and began barking in her face.
Fanny sat up in bed, looking around in confusion. Blinking her eyes a few times she realized the barking came from outside. What a horrible dream! She shivered and got out of bed to get dressed for the morning. Both Susan and her mother watched her intently as she went about doing her daily chores. While she looked serene on the outside, her thoughts were far from being so. One comfort she had in all this, Henry had gone back to Norfolk, so at least she could think in peace.
She soon received a letter from Mary, telling all about her stay in London, and wishing that Fanny were there with her. However, still not having received a letter from Edmund, Fanny was in a state of anxiety, which kept her concentration quite scattered. Not to mention Henry Crawford was still uppermost in her mind. She did not understand her feelings toward him nor what to make of his.
A few weeks later, she finally received a letter from her cousin, where he expressed his uncertainty regarding Miss Crawford. After reading the letter, Fanny was quite distressed and hoping to never have another letter again. She reread parts again and again, silently listing Mary Crawford's selfishness and faults. She quit her silent reverie as Henry's conversation came to mind. After judging him so harshly, and then hearing his explanation, she could not likewise judge his sister also. There were always reasons for people to behave as they were. She wondered what Miss Crawford's were and soon lost all vexation toward the letter.
A few days after the previous letter, Fanny received one from her aunt, telling her of young Tom Bertram's illness. Though Lady Bertram sincerely wished Fanny back at Mansfield Park, no word was sent to confirm her actual trip home. She worried and felt for her family day and night, hoping to return to Mansfield to comfort her aunt, and help in any way she could. Letters continued back and forth, including bad or worse news, everyone unsure of Tom's recovery.
Miss Crawford sent Fanny a letter begging an explanation of Tom's true condition and went on to talk of his imminent death. So callously mentioning how much better Mansfield Park would be in the hands of "Sir Edmund" than any other Sir. By the time she was finished reading, Fanny was quite disgusted with Mary, and could in no way pardon her behavior after this.
After looking at the letter for a few more moments, she thought of Mansfield Park and knew she could not be separated any longer. As much as she despised Mary Crawford, she wrote back begging to be taken home.
Miss Mary Crawford,
I find myself feeling quite ill here in Portsmouth. If it is not too much trouble I would like to take you up on your offer to escort me home. Please, ask your brother to send a manservant with you. He will understand my meaning. I thank you both for your kindness towards me.
She sent it out right away then sat down to compose one to her Aunt Bertram.
My Dear Aunt,
I write to you with good news. Miss Mary Crawford has offered to escort me home to Mansfield Park and I hope to be there within a week. I sincerely hope this causes no inconvenience, but I cannot bear to be separated from all my family there in your time of need. I send with you all my love and shall see you all soon.
She sealed the envelope with shaky hands. As soon as she heard from Miss Crawford she would send this out. Never before had she been willful in any way, but this time she could not stand by helplessly when she would be much better off helping her family. So she waited for a response from the Crawfords with anxiety.
A week later, Miss Crawford and Miss Price were on their way to Mansfield Park, with the former chatting about her brother and London. Fanny stared out the window, trying to block out the ramblings as she thought of Tom. Even with his flaws and reckless behavior, Tom was still her family and she felt the pain acutely at thoughts of losing him.
Mary's next question, however, brought her back to the present. "Fanny, I have asked my brother many time and he still will not answer me. Why on earth did you ask for a manservant? I know that he would have been far happier to accompany us. Now he is off to Norfolk, all alone and quite missing you my dear." She smile slyly.
Fanny blushed, and answered. "When he was here, he told me of wanting to go back to Norfolk and finish up some business. I could not interrupt those plans, for he seemed quite determined. I would not wish to dissuade him."
Mary smiled widely, "Oh Fanny, good, kind creature. You are too good, and my brother deserves to have you." Fanny smiled noncommittally, and resumed staring out the window while Mary continued her discussion.
"Miss Crawford, it is so nice to see you again. And such goodness to bring our dear Fanny to us in our time of need." He looked at Fanny tenderly, causing her to blush, then continued to talk with Mary. "I am afraid you will not find us as lively a party since your last visit. My brother still remains quite ill, but we have all hope of him recovering completely."
Fanny spoke up, "Please, Edmund, may I go to him? Where is my aunt? I should see her first, to ensure her comfort."
"Oh, yes of course, Fanny. Mother is resting in her room at the moment, she has been so upset by this incident, as all of us have." Edmund replied. Fanny thanked him and headed in the direction of Lady Bertram's room. She knocked lightly on the door, not wanting to wake her up if she was napping. A tentative "come in" was heard and she opened the door.
Upon seeing her niece, Lady Bertram was quite happy, and was so glad to see her niece that she rose from her bed to greet her. "Oh, my dear Fanny, I have been quite lost without you. I am so glad to see you returned to us. Oh, my poor Tom, he has been so very ill, but now that you are here, I shall be so much more calm." She embraced her niece tightly, surprising Fanny.
"All will be well, Aunt. I shall help with Tom as much as I can. I am so happy to be home also. I have missed you all." Fanny answered.
After ensuring her aunt's comfort, Fanny headed towards Tom's room. She would not, could not, rest until she had at least seen for herself his condition. Knocking on the door, her uncle's voice permitted entrance, and taking a breath, she opened the door. Her eyes went instantly to the bed where her cousin now laid. His breath was raspy and shallow, his skin a sickly yellow hue, and his features sunk in from lack of nutrition. So different from the exuberant young Tomas she had left before.
Sir Bertram stood up and came over to his niece. "Fanny, dear girl, it is good to have you home. I am grateful for Miss Crawford bringing you home to us." He looked at her. "But, you look ill yourself since you left. Are you quite alright?"
"Oh, yes uncle, it has just been a tiring journey and I have been worried about Tom, that is all. A good night's rest shall do wonders. How is he?" Fanny advanced toward the bed and touched Tom's forehead. It was warm to the touch and his skin was clammy. She put a cloth into the washbasin and cooled his forehead.
"He has much improved, but not out of the woods yet. The doctor's are hopeful of a full recovery and we have all kept faith that he will pull through." Sir Bertram watched his niece nursing his son and a new hope filled him. Reliable, strong, caring Fanny would help in his recovery. Smiling, he thought to himself, I do think she is the backbone of this family. He then excused himself and went to check on his wife.
Later the next day, everyone was eating dinner silently when an express came for Mary. Seeing it was from her brother, she opened it immediately and began reading. She smiled beautifully and looked at Fanny.
"Oh my dear! Wonderful news! My brother has finished his business at Norfolk, and shall be traveling to Mansfield Park within a week to visit me. He will be staying with our sister and her husband, but expresses his happiness about renewing his acquaintance with everyone here. Is that not wonderful?" Mary gushed, with a pointed look at Fanny.
Fanny merely smiled demurely, and mumbled an appropriate response before taking a drink of wine.
"Oh, my dear Fanny! You must help me write a letter to him! After dinner we can sit together and form a wonderful response to cheer him up since he has been quite alone these last few weeks." Without waiting for an agreement, Mary went back to eating, her conversation with Edmund much more lively than previously.
Fanny sighed as she witnessed her cousin's obvious admiration and regard for Miss Crawford. It seems her love for Edmund and her dreams of their life together were not to be. She suddenly felt a headache coming on and excused herself from the table. Mary watched her with a concern, and excused herself also. Coming to Fanny's bedroom door, she knocked lightly, and entered upon command.
"Fanny, are you quite all right? You look so pale. I fear you stayed in Portsmouth too long, it has done horrible things for your health. I am so glad you wrote to me when you did, Henry was so very worried about you. And you must be missing my brother too. Oh poor dear girl, do not worry. One more week and he shall be here, then we may all be happy again." Mary grasped Fanny's cool, shaking hands in her own, and grinned.
Smiling back through the pain in her heart, Fanny was determined to put Edmund behind her. A picture of Henry came to mind as she stared at Mary. Sympathy filled her heart as she remembered the story of his first love. And suddenly, instead of disgust, she was looking forward to a visit from Mr. Crawford, because she now understood what he felt all those years ago.