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Lamb (JaOctGoHoNo)

October 31, 2020 01:03PM
Blurb: After Henry Crawford withdraws his suit with Fanny Price, Tom Bertram falls deathly ill. A JaOctGoHoNo challenge.

I hope everyone is trying to stay safe this weekend. And thanks to Michelle for the peer review.

The Lamb

Henry Crawford drained his glass then waved his hand at the bartender for a refill. He didn't want to be here, but he didn't really want to be anywhere, so why not here? At least he didn't actually know anyone in the dingy tavern. He wasn't expected to make witty conversation or to flirt outrageously with the hostess and her friends. He was allowed to be quiet to the point of taciturn in a place like this.

Taking his new glass in hand, he surveyed the room for the first time since he arrived. At a glance, it was peopled with others who just wanted to drink alone. Most were hunched over mismatched tables but one solitary figure was sitting against the back wall beside a door to private rooms beyond. His eyes would have slid past the stranger except he was sitting so primly and out of place. As his gaze lingered, he recognized the man. Without a conscious thought, he had slipped off his chair and walked across the room.

"Bertram?" he said.

The other man flinched, looking terribly guilty to be found in this seedy place. "Crawford!" he squeaked. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same," he deflected, easing himself into a nearby chair.

Edmund Bertram furrowed his brow as if he might not say anything, fidgeted with a deep unease that could not be fully blamed on his current location. Then his face crumpled. "It's my brother Tom," he said. "He's sick."

Crawford felt his bones settle uneasily. He hadn't spent as much time with Tom Bertram as with his siblings, but he never wished the man harm. "What happened?"

Edmund shook his head in confusion. "He was in Kent with friends and fell ill on the way from one houseparty to the next. His friends left him behind, alone and unattended; maybe they thought he had already left without them, maybe they trusted the innkeeper to look after him. By the time we found him, he was so weak with fever that we didn't think he could survive the journey back to Mansfield. We brought him to London since it was closer, but…" Bertram trailed off as recent scenes replayed in his mind's eye. "A number of doctors have been to see him but at this point I don't have much hope that he will live much longer."

"Bertram, you have my sympathies," he responded simply, not knowing what more to say. He wondered if his sister Mary had heard the news and how she had reacted. Henry knew that Edmund was deeply enamored with her. He also knew that his sister's ambition would not settle for being the wife of a rustic vicar and, as such, she had resolved to refuse any offer of marriage from Mr. Edmund Bertram. But Henry also knew that Mary could not bring herself to discourage the pious young man completely, that some part of her recognized his worth and wanted to claim it. It was a delicate and painful balancing act. Henry looked forward to the day when his sister would finally commit to one action or the other and put the ambivalence behind her.

But with Tom Bertram at death's door, the calculation changed considerably. While Mary wouldn't stoop to being a vicar's wife, rising to the title of Lady Bertram was a worthy goal. If Tom died, Mary would be very glad that she had not irrevocably spurned the next in line for Mansfield Park.

All these thoughts raced around Henry's mind in the blink of an eye, but those were concerns for Mary and not for the present. Instead, he offered in commiseration, "Your parents must be beside themselves."

Bertram shrugged, still a little numb. "Mother is still in the country; I think she has no idea how bad it is. Father, on the other hand, will not give up hope. He has me even now pursuing a miracle cure," he said as if to explain why he was in the tavern.

"I suppose it is a very good thing that your cousin Miss Price is at Mansfield to comfort Lady Bertram," Crawford observed.

"Fanny?" The comment caught Bertram off guard. "She's in London. She's here. I brought her down from Portsmouth myself only yesterday."

"Yesterday?" Now it was Crawford's turn to repeat words stupidly.

It had been over three months since he had foolishly imagined himself in love with Bertram's cousin, since he had made his offer and been rejected. In response to her decision, Sir Thomas had sent her to Portsmouth either to punish her for recklessly casting aside a proposal or to encourage not be so foolish a second time.

It had been nearly two months since Crawford himself had gone to Portsmouth to see if her opinion of him had softened. What he found had wrenched his stomach. The Price family lived in squalor. The noise, the filth, the constant disruptions had taken their toll; Miss Price's health was patently weaker. If she didn't return to the country soon, to the restorative peace and quiet of Mansfield, Crawford was sure her health would deteriorate to a point from which it would never recover.

Such was his alarm that he begged for the favor of rescuing her. Such was her will that she refused him even at her moment of greatest need. Had she merely allowed it, he would have informed Mr. Price of their standing engagement and whisked her away that very night. Or he would have raced to London and come back the next morning with his sister to act as chaperone, and carried Miss Price to the safety of the Rushworths' house in town. Miss Price had looked at him then, her features stony, her eyes full of reproach, and Crawford suddenly realized that he could never expect help from that quarter. He had flirted too much with Mrs. Rushworth, had made her fall in love with him although she had spitefully married someone else; Mrs. Rushworth would never forgive whatever girl eventually caught his eye, not even her own cousin.

In the end, he was forced to take the path he didn't want: he withdrew his suit. If Sir Thomas thought to keep her there until she accepted the proposal, there was no point in continuing that encouragement after the proposal was gone. He had written Sir Thomas of his decision and retired from the field, trusting the patriarch to act correctly on that news.

But that was said weeks ago and, "Miss Price had been in Portsmouth until yesterday?"

Edmund nodded, too drained by recent events to notice the censure in Crawford's tone. "Yes," he said. "Father finally met with a doctor who swears he can cure Tom. But first we needed to bring Fanny back from Portsmouth and determine if she's compatible."

"Compatible for what?" Crawford asked with a creeping sense of dread.

"For some medical treatment," Bertram answered airily. "I don't understand it, but Dr. Saturday is confident he can restore Tom to health."

The dread was no longer modestly creeping; it was brutally pummeling him. "Your father went to Doctor Saturday?"

Crawford had heard that name a few times at his uncle's table, whispered by old sailors who would then cross themselves superstitiously. The man was part Spaniard and part myth. His last name was clearly not Saturday nor was he a doctor, not by any definition of the word that Crawford knew. But Saturday did get results. People on the brink of death had been made to thrive again. But these miracles -- that was the most accurate word Crawford could use -- came at great cost. There had been more than one story of Saturday demanding a life for a life. If Tom Bertram was fading and the family had brought Miss Price to town to meet with Saturday… was Sir Thomas about to sacrifice his niece to pay for his son's recovery?

"Where exactly is your cousin right now?"

"She's here," Bertram said, bobbing his head at the door near his chair. "Dr. Saturday insisted on seeing her as soon as he received word that she was in town. With Tom's health so fragile, I understand his pace, but I wish he could have arranged for a more welcoming location. Fanny tried not to show it -- she is as anxious for Tom's recovery as anyone -- but she didn't want to be here. And I feel wretched for leaving her alone with the doctor as he is a stranger to her, but he insisted. Honestly, I was beginning to think this was a terrible mistake until I saw you. Please tell me I did the right thing."

Everything about this predicament felt wrong. Was Sir Thomas ignorant of the rumors that swirled around the so-called doctor? Or was the baronet so desperate to save his son that he would willingly sacrifice his niece? Had the Bertrams failed to raise her as family and instead bred her as livestock to be slaughtered in the proper season?

Before Crawford could articulate that question, a sharp, feminine scream filled the air. The noise twisted painfully but it was not as dreadful as the silence that followed. Bertram looked up with wide-eyed concern but Crawford looked to the others in the room to gauge their reaction. None of them moved. Whatever was happening behind closed doors was beneath their notice.

Crawford turned back to Bertram. Maybe one of them blinked, maybe one of them nodded. Either way, they two stood up simultaneously and barged through the door to whatever horrors awaited beyond.


Lamb (JaOctGoHoNo)

NN SOctober 31, 2020 01:03PM

Re: Lamb (JaOctGoHoNo)

EvelynJeanOctober 31, 2020 08:11PM

Re: Lamb (JaOctGoHoNo)

Shannon KOctober 31, 2020 11:45PM

Re: Lamb (JaOctGoHoNo)

MichelleRWOctober 31, 2020 07:55PM


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