Posted on: 2012-09-05
A/N: Please note that the italicized words in the story below are taken exactly from Mansfield Park. The rest is all fanciful.
Ah, the play's the thing, but as it turned out, Lovers' Vows seemed not the thing at all. How did something that started as such a romp end up making everyone so miserable--and those who were not miserable were agitated with impatience for the next steps in the scheme to be taken. A few were both miserable and agitated.
It had already turned two sisters against each other, set two brothers at loggerheads, but perhaps most distressing of all had the ever patient Fanny Price feeling that she was full of jealousy and agitation. Miss Crawford came with looks of gaiety which seemed an insult, with friendly expressions towards herself which she could hardly answer calmly.
Fanny watched while Edmund and Miss Crawford grew closer now that he had sacrificed all principle and bowed to being a partner in this wretched endeavor. But Fanny was as little noticed as - even less than - Julia, whose heart suffered its first break as she watched her greedy sister cavort with the man who should have been hers. Maria had Rushworth but could not help grabbing up Henry Crawford, too. So unfair!
"I don't understand it," Mr. Rushworth said aloud, but no one was listening to him. He was standing in a small room off from the others. He repeated his statement, and this time Fanny, standing in the hallway, rushed in.
"Your lines again, Mr. Rushworth?" she asked kindly. "Do you need more help?"
"No," he said peevishly. "Well, actually, yes. But that's not what I don't understand. Or, well, it's not the only think I don't understand."
She smiled encouragingly. During all the hustle-bustle of preparation for the play, Mr. Rushworth had found that it was only the quiet, little Fanny who would take time for him, prompting him on his lines. His own dear Maria, the woman he was betrothed to, was far too busy rehearsing her scenes with Henry.
"I am a handsome man, don't you think, Miss Price?"
She drew back from him, flushing deeply, her eyes wide. "Sir?"
"I am tall. I am handsome. Is there anything objectionable in my figure?"
Fanny frowned and looked around but no one else was near. "Perhaps you will excuse me now, Mr. Rushworth. I think I hear my Aunt Norris calling."
"Miss Price, please. I am not propositioning you. I am simply asking your opinion."
"You are a fine man, sir," she assured him.
"And I have money," he pointed out. "A fine estate and a fine old name. I have a great deal to offer."
Fanny nodded warily. She said, "Indeed. You also have a betrothed who might be a better audience for this."
"But that is exactly the point, Miss Price. She is not. She prefers to spend her time with a shriveled up little man barely two thirds as large as me and with an estate one third the size of Southerton. I am a finer man and I have more money -- what does she see in that homely little Crawford? Why, the man has one eyebrow!"
Fanny, who disliked speaking aloud in harsh terms against anyone, could only look upward at the ceiling. But although she would not speak, she secretly understood Mr. Rushworth's point. She would not have minded some sudden storm sweeping through the county that happened to select only the Crawfords to wash away. Brother and sister, they were like a two-person pestilence. Mary had no more right to Edmund than Henry to Maria.
But aloud Fanny said, "We--ah, that is, you should be patient. The play will end and everything will go back the way it was."
"Will it, Miss Price? I'm not sure--Maria stares at Crawford more than she ever looks at me. I think for all that he is so much less than me, she wants him more."
Fanny's soft heart broke for him. Truthfully, she had always privately thought of Mr. Rushworth as just a little dimwitted and was surprised to find him so perceptive about this. Still, she tried to reassure him that Maria would never choose Henry over him. Mr. Rushworth was starting to cry, and there are few things more painful to watch than a big man weeping like a baby. Fanny reached out, patting him on the back. "There, there." His sobs grew louder and, in his misery, he forgot and laid his head upon her breast. He had no romantic intent. He was a large child seeking comfort from a warm and non-judgmental figure. But she instinctively stepped back from him, and the unexpected movement caused him to trip. Since he was quite a bit larger than she, he took her down when he fell atop her.
Everyone heard the crash and came running. Fanny and Mr. Rushworth did not have time to untangle from each other, and they were found in what more worldly persons might call, the missionary position. Even the virgins among the crowd of onlookers knew this was rather scandalous.
"What are you doing, man!" shrieked Tom, who, except for Henry Crawford, was probably the most worldly person in the group. "What are you doing to my cousin?"
Poor Edmund was horrified and seemed paralyzed at the sight. But Henry smirked, and went to Tom's aid in pulling Rushworth off Fanny. Yates took the opportunity to throw a protective arm around Julia and sweep her from the room. "You shouldn't see this," he said.
Mrs. Norris was livid and had to be held back by Mrs. Grant and Mary Crawford. The old lady was screaming how dare Fanny put her grimy hands on Maria's betrothed. She, too, was taken from the room. Her sister Lady Bertram, rousing herself in a more commanding fashion than usual, ordered that Mrs. Norris be dosed and allowed to sleep. It was hoped that when she awakened her desire to do harm to Fanny would have passed. Just in case, a guard was put at her door.
In the room where the horrible event had taken place, Tom was calling Mr. Rushworth to account. "This is unacceptable--you are engaged to my sister, and yet, we find you with my cousin."
Mr. Rushworth started to protest but stopped. Slowly, an idea was blooming. He blinked from the unusual effort, and said, "I think I would prefer to be engaged to Miss Price. What do you say about that, Maria? Would you be willing to give me up?"
Miss Bertram, whose lips were still puffy from the rehearsing she and Henry had been pursuing with selfless zeal and energy, did not respond immediately. Her eyelashes fluttered downward and she took a surreptitious glance at Henry. He seemed to be closer to the door than he had been a minute ago.
"Well, Maria, what do you say? Are you willing to give up my twelve thousand pounds a year and a house in town for a man who is a half head shorter than you?"
"Whatever do you mean, Mr. Rushworth? What man are you talking about?" But she betrayed herself with a longing look at Henry Crawford. She said more loudly, "Do you expect some other man to claim me? Who?"
Who, indeed? Henry Crawford had walked out the door without a word and he did not return to the room.
Maria, tears in her eyes, turned back to Mr. Rushworth. "How can you do this to me? Desert me for my cousin?"
Fanny waved her hands frantically, showing greater energy quite unlike her customary placid movements. "No, it was a mistake. Please, Maria, don't cry. Mr. Rushworth is yours - oh, most definitely, my dear cousin. Yours!"
But as Fanny explained the accident further, trying to assure her cousin that absolutely nothing untoward had happened--or would ever happen--between her and Maria's betrothed, the lady kept looking at the door and weeping.
With all the shenanigans, Tom decided Edmund had been right the first time. They cut off doing the play and stopped all rehearsing immediately. It was a good thing because Sir Thomas returned not much later, and thankfully, he never had to know that his children had turned his beloved office into part of a theater while he was gone. He would not have liked that.
Also, as it turned out, some months later once Maria married James Rushworth, Henry Crawford came around again and attempted to entice her away. As before, it was all for sport. I will leave it to you to decide what you think Maria did this time.