Posted on: 2012-08-11
He wondered how he had missed it before. She had grown into quite an interestingly shaped young woman, hardly the inferior of his sisters. He had always recognized them as exemplars of the female. It was his right to be proud of them as a brother, and as a man, he knew how other men would look at them. They were lovely girls whose attractions ranked in the first circle of beauty.
And, here was his cousin, as pretty as his sisters. He had always known she was pretty but he found he felt it more than merely observing it intellectually. She was also quite a different order of female from his sisters, but he had always known that.
While they were prone to pettiness and smallness, his cousin would never have shown such feelings. She may have thought that given her position as a permanent guest rather than a member of the family, she needed to show better manners. Now as he watched her, bending with such patience over his mother's reclining figure, he wondered if Fanny was hiding baser feelings, afraid that she would be sent away if she was less than perfect. She was not in the position of his sisters, princesses of the family. And, ironically enough, they had decided of their own accord to exile themselves from their ancestral home, Mansfield Park. Fanny stayed. Really, she had nowhere else to go, since being betrayed by the man who swore his love. She had always said she did not want him, and everyone always expected her to eventually change her mind.
It was no wonder that a connoisseur of female attractions like Crawford had decided he wanted her for his wife. Her physical allurements came with a sweetness and gentleness that could put a man at ease, and perhaps a worldly man like Crawford most of all. Unlike her beautiful cousins whom he also enjoyed, she would never press for a bigger carriage or insist upon a house in London. She would accept a man as he was without demanding he cut a more exalted profile in the beau monde. A man could find sanctuary and peace within her.
All the while, she offered pulchritude that could make a man's pants tighten rather alarmingly. Edmund told himself he need not feel ashamed of that. A man could hardly help the unconscious, involuntary calls of blood, pounding in him and demanding -- well, demanding what young men since Adam could not help. He need not feel ashamed. It was natural. She seemed entirely unaware of the effect she could have. Could it really be? Or, perhaps she trusted him to never impose upon her. She was right. He would never take what she would not offer. Even now, he thought she might still be mourning the love she could have had. Henry Crawford was a wealthy man who could have given her a great deal had he not proved, ultimately, unworthy.
"Do you ever think of him?"
She looked up in her sweet way and smiled readily. "I often think of William. You know, he is the best of brothers! Such an excellent correspondent, and he shares all of his adventures. You may read his letters. I'm sure he would not mind." She sighed and added dotingly, "He writes so well, I often feel I am in the middle of his exploits. Perhaps he sometimes exaggerates -- it all seems so foreign and impossibly wonderful. But I don't mind if it's not exactly the truth. I know everything he writes is for my pleasure so what if he does exaggerate a little?" She smiled dreamily, and it tugged at Edmund's heart.
"No, I was not talking about your brother. I meant the other man in your life."
She looked perplexed. "Who else would I ever miss? Well, sometimes you, I will admit, now that you are away more at Thornton Lacy. But, as Uncle says, you do not belong to us anymore, not like before." She sighed, taking a piece of sewing from his mother's hands. The lady had started to doze.
"I mean Crawford. He wanted you to be his wife, after all."
Like a sudden thunderstorm darkening the sky, disdain tightened her pleasant features. Her mouth settled itself into a straight, lipless line and he was struck in that moment with how she resembled their aunt Norris. They both hated that woman, although hate was a strong word and she was their relative. Neither of them would have done her harm if it was in their power, and on the contrary, they would have helped her if ever she solicited them. But they hated her strictness, her tightness, her unwillingness to bend. Edmund would never have admitted to Fanny that he saw any physical resemblance between her and their dreaded aunt.
"I am sorry, Fanny. I distressed you by mentioning it. You know I would not hurt you for the world." He frowned, knowing he should not go on but unable to help himself because he thought it was the right thing to do -- and he wished to know. "You never talk of him. I thought it might help you, as it has helped me when you listened to me speak of Mary."
"No," she said. "I have no need to talk of Mr. Crawford."
"He must have hurt you a great deal when he was unfaithful with Maria. I cannot believe she or he would behave so..."
"Edmund, please, enough."
Disagreeing with Fanny was the most uncomfortable feeling possible to him. But even at times like this when they saw things differently, it was never like that final time with Mary Crawford. He had had to face that his disagreements with that lady cut to the bone, as final as if their past had never existed. He and Fanny would always be joined in spirit in a way he and Mary had never been. True, Fanny was not his sister, and he could not cling to her in that way he always had. But she must know how constant his care, his wish that she have the best life could offer.
"I only meant to say, he could have offered you a great deal. He was wrong in much that he did but I believe he honestly loved you. Perhaps talking would make you feel better."
Quietly, but firmly like a door shutting and locking, Fanny said, "I never wanted Mr. Crawford's attentions." She turned from him then and he felt it was impossible to say more, although he dearly wished to explore the subject with her. She could be that way sometimes, as implacable as a rock. She would have her own way, just as their aunt Norris was fond of saying.
As his cousin and kinswoman, she would sometimes visit him at Thornton Lacy, bringing gifts and supplies from his parents. No one thought anything amiss in it. She was always driven by a taciturn Dalliwort, either the father or the son. He (whichever it was) would take care of the carriage, preparing for the return trip, while she and Edmund talked.
"Your house is lovely. It so reflects you," she told him softly one day. It was her fourth or fifth visit. "How strange that in some ways I feel more at home here than anywhere else."
He grabbed onto the back of a chair in order to avoid being swept off his feet. She had no idea, did she, the effect she could have upon him. Today she was wearing a light muslin frock that clung closely to the top of her frame while fanning out more as it flowed over her legs. She stood in the sunlight, and he admired how long and shapely they were.
"And so cool in here, despite it being such a hot day. You are fortunate in the construction of this house."
When he did not respond, she looked at him, "Edmund, is anything wrong? Suddenly, you look as if you are not feeling so well. Are you ill?"
He walked toward her with long strides. He barely knew what he meant to do. Her face was worried and then alarmed. She threw out her arms as he came toward her, and he thought she meant to push him away. But she did not.
Sweet, sweet Fanny.
Sometime, much later, he found it in himself to mutter, "This is wrong. Forgive me, cousin."
"Only if you kiss me again," she answered. "And again." She moaned as he pressed her to him and she demanded, in her gentle Fanny way, "Yes, just like that."
**fin** or, in other words, draw the curtains and give these two some much needed privacy!!