Posted on: 2012-01-15
"I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife."
Fanny placed the long-awaited letter down, tormented by her emotions. "I never will, no, I certainly never will wish for a letter again," was Fanny's secret declaration as she finished this. Not only to learn that her return to Mansfield Park would be delayed, but to hear Edmund's earnest declarations of love for Mary Crawford! There was nothing in that to soothe irritation. She was almost vexed into displeasure and anger against Edmund.
"Why is not it settled?" she fumed. "He is blinded, and nothing will open his eyes; nothing can, after having had truths before him so long in vain. He will marry her, and be poor and miserable. God grant that her influence do not make him cease to be respectable!"
She looked over the letter again. " 'So very fond of me!' 'tis nonsense all. She loves nobody but herself and her brother. ... 'The only woman in the world whom he could ever think of as a wife.' I firmly believe it. It is an attachment to govern his whole life. Accepted or refused, his heart is wedded to her for ever. 'The loss of Mary I must consider as comprehending the loss of Crawford and Fanny.' Edmund, you do not know me. The families would never be connected if you did not connect them!"
Such sensations, however, were too near akin to resentment to be long guiding Fanny's soliloquies. She was soon more softened and sorrowful. His warm regard, his kind expressions, his confidential treatment, touched her strongly. Fanny touched the lovely gold chain around her neck, a gift from Edmund from which hung the cross given to her by her dear brother William. Her face flushed as she recalled the occasion of the gift, when Edmund referred to her as one of his "two dearest objects I have on earth."
But one of two meant that there was another. "Oh! write, write. Finish it at once," she begged Edmund in her thoughts. "Let there be an end of this suspense. Fix, commit, condemn yourself." Condemn yourself? Surely not! Was there not hope in the fact that Edmund had not yet offered for Mary, despite his protestations of love? Were there not as many words of doubt about the match as determination to be found within Edmund's letter?
In that instance, the flicker of hope she felt burst into flame. Edmund had been for these many months bewitched by Mary's beauty and charm, but his sensible mind and good character had enabled him to resist a commitment that Fanny was certain he would regret. If only he would but realize that another, his other dearest, loved him beyond all measure! His fears about Mary--her worldliness, her unwillingness to accept a simple life as the wife of a country parson--would not exist were he to choose Fanny.
"Oh!" she gasped, placing her hand upon her breast in a vain attempt to still her beating heart. In her many months, nay, years of hopeless love for her cousin, never once had she voiced the desire, even to herself, of becoming his wife. She had doubted her worth, accepted her lower station in life, and feared her uncle's disapprobation too much to entertain the thought.
But much had changed in the last year. With the departure of her cousins Maria and Julia to London, Fanny had risen in the esteem of her uncle and aunt Bertram, and as a result, in her own. She had further realized her value here in Portsmouth, as she found many ways to be useful to her family, and as a friend and teacher to her sister Susan. Even Henry Crawford's attentions, unwanted as they were, had taught her that she could attract a man of consequence. Why not Edmund?
Moreover, she had stood up to her uncle in refusing to accept Henry's offer of marriage. She had learned that she could assert her own will and be stronger for it. Yet that was a negative assertion, a desire not to marry a man whose principles and character she doubted. Could she assert herself for that which she hoped and dreamed?
And was it too late? For Edmund was now not only writing that none but Mary would be his wife, but he was persuaded Fanny would soon commit herself to Crawford. He had argued against every protestation she had given him against the match, convinced that Fanny only needed more time to grow to love Mary's brother.
But perhaps...! Fanny looked to the letter again, rereading Edmund's words in a new light. "I cannot give her up. Connected as we already are, and, I hope, are to be, to give up Mary Crawford would be to give up the society of some of those most dear to me; to banish myself from the very houses and friends whom, under any other distress, I should turn to for consolation. The loss of Mary I must consider as comprehending the loss of Crawford and of Fanny."
He feared giving up Mary because he thought it would mean losing Fanny! He was certain Fanny would soon be Mrs. Henry Crawford, and Mary would then be his only attachment to her! Fanny's heart leapt for joy.
A moment later, she began to chide herself. Why was Edmund so convinced she would accept Henry, despite her determined refusals? She had told Edmund every reason the match could never be, and he had dismissed each one. No--that was not true. She had not told Edmund the most important reason she would never marry Henry. Even if all her other objections--Henry's character, his behavior with Maria, the differences in their temperaments--were overcome, this reason would remain.
Why had she not told Edmund when she had the chance? He had asked, he had probed, and she had told him everything save that which was most essential to her heart.
Fanny closed her eyes as she leaned against the rough wood of a pole which lined the Portsmouth pier. She took her cross necklace in hand, an object that combined the gifts of her two dearests on earth, and represented her dearest above. And she prayed for another chance.
Posted on: 2012-01-20
Several weeks later, Fanny awoke before the sun after a night of restless agitation. Edmund would soon be there to retrieve her and Susan and carry them to Mansfield. The intervening weeks had brought the worst possible news of Tom's illness, Henry's and Maria's perfidy, and Julia's folly. Fanny knew that her own distress about Edmund's marital future was unimportant in light of the Bertram family's pain. She had longed to join them to be of some solace, especially to her aunt, and at last, a letter from Edmund had come, informing them that she was needed and would be sent for.
With each letter from Mansfield Park, Fanny's heart ached for her relations anew. And yet, never had Fanny's estimation of Edmund been higher. Edmund was all in all. He had become the attendant, supporter, and cheerer of his suffering brother, and the strength for his parents in their desperation over their wayward children.
By eight in the morning Edmund was in the house. The girls heard his entrance from above, and Fanny went down. The idea of immediately seeing him, with the knowledge of what he must be suffering, brought back all her own first feelings. He so near her, and in misery. She was ready to sink as she entered the parlour. He was alone, and met her instantly; and she found herself pressed to his heart with only these words, just articulate, "My Fanny, my only sister; my only comfort now!" She could say nothing; nor for some minutes could he say more.
After discussion of their readiness to depart, it was settled that Edmund should order the carriage to the door in half an hour. Fanny answered for their having breakfasted and being quite ready for the carriage. He had already ate, and declined staying for their meal. He would walk round the ramparts, and join them with the carriage. He was gone again; glad to get away even from Fanny.
He looked very ill; evidently suffering under violent emotions, which he was determined to suppress. She knew it must be so, but it was terrible to her.
At last the carriage came, and Fanny and Susan prepared to depart. Fanny's last meal in her father's house was in character with her first: she was dismissed from it as hospitably as she had been welcomed.
The journey was a silent one. Edmund's deep sighs often reached Fanny. Had he been alone with her, Fanny wondered if his heart must have opened in spite of every resolution; but Susan's presence drove him quite into himself, and his attempts to talk on indifferent subjects could never be long supported.
Fanny watched him with never-failing solicitude, and sometimes catching his eye, revived an affectionate smile, which comforted her; but the first day's journey passed without her hearing a word from him on the subjects that were weighing him down.
During the silence of the carriage ride, she could finally reflect on the letter that she had banished from her mind from the first news of Tom's falling ill. Had Edmund received it before departing to attend his brother? If so, had he read it? And if he had read it, what must he be thinking? In all the recent correspondence from Mansfield, the only indication Edmund had given of his wish to offer for Mary was a postscript to one of his mother's letters: "On the subject of my last, I had actually begun a letter when called away by Tom's illness, but I have now changed my mind, and fear to trust the influence of friends. When Tom is better, I shall go."
He had changed his mind. Was that simply about writing to Mary rather than proposing to her in person, or had he changed his mind about Mary altogether?
It was selfish, Fanny knew, to think of such questions at this time, but during the many hours of travel, she could not help it. When she arrived at Mansfield, she would put such thoughts away in order to assist her relations in any way needed.
She thought of his embrace upon his arrival to her parents' home, and his words, "My Fanny, my only sister; my only comfort now!" How she wished that being his Fanny and his only comfort indicated love for her as a woman, but she must be truthful with herself. He had called her, "my sister." That was how he saw her: as most beloved and dear, but only as a sister.
She glanced at Edmund, who, along with Susan, had fallen asleep with the rhythm of the carriage and warmth of the springtime sun. She allowed herself a wanton indulgence: to stare at his beautiful countenance. Although she had judged Mary for speaking only of Edmund's appearance to her London friends, she understood why they had found him impressive on this count.
And what of Mary? Did Edmund still hope to attach himself to her? As much as Fanny repented the second part of her letter, she hoped he had read, and heeded, the first. She felt her concerns even more strongly after reading Mary's latest letter to her. Fanny sickened as she thought of Mary's callous wish for Tom's death and Edmund's increase in wealth and status as a consequence.
Mary seemed certain that her power over Edmund remained. Did it? Oh, how Fanny wished she could rewrite that letter, sharing only her fears for Edmund and not her hopes!
Even now, she could recall every word of her missive, having read them over many times before sending it by post. "My dear Edmund," she had written,
"It was with greatest pleasure that I received your letter, for I have missed you more than you could know. I thank you for your many kind words to me, and for entrusting me with your heartfelt confidences.
"I must say that it pains me to hear you express such confusion and despair. I beg of you to forgive me if I step outside my place, but I must say what I believe to be true. Please know that my words are written with the deepest concern for your well-being and happiness.
"I recently had cause to say these words to someone: We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be. I sense in your letter much uncertainty about committing yourself to Mary Crawford.
"I believe this to be your better guide, Edmund, one that you must attend if you are to have the future of happiness and respectability that you deserve. We have talked much of Miss Crawford and I have withheld my tongue more often than not out of respect for you. But my concern for you outweighs my discretion. Edmund, I am convinced that a woman who disparages your faith, your values and your profession could never make you happy. I know you believe it is merely her friends that are leading her astray, but please understand: She is quite as likely to have led them astray. They have all, perhaps, been corrupting one another; but if they are so much fonder of her than she is of them, she is the less likely to have been hurt, except by their flattery.
"Please consider carefully, Edmund: is such a woman really what you what? And could you make such a woman happy, one who thrives in the gossip and fashion and shallow pretensions of London society? You are such a good man that if you could not make your wife happy, you would be unhappy as well. Oh, Edmund, how miserable I would be to see you live in such sorrow!
"Now that I have been frank with you, I must be honest with myself. I told you that I wrote with deepest concern for your well-being and happiness, but I also write with concern for my own.
"In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you!
"Oh Edmund, I do not know when my feelings changed from love for you as my teacher and protector and friend, to love for you as a man. But they have changed, and I can no longer deny them. Last winter you questioned my refusal of Henry, and I answered you truthfully but not fully. For though my concerns about his nature remain, those reasons were as nothing compared to the fact that my heart belongs to another. My heart belongs to you, Edmund, now and forever.
"I do not know how you will receive this information, with sorrow, disgust or joy. I can only hope that if not the latter, you will forgive me for speaking so openly. For even if you cannot return my affection, your happiness is my greatest concern. And if affection be only in my heart, then you will silence me on this subject forever.
"Please do not delay long in responding, for I must know. --Yours ever."
Fanny's face coloured at the memory, mortified that she could have written such words. Oh, what must Edmund think of her! Perhaps he had not received the letter, or perhaps he had not read them. That must be her only hope.
The first few days of Fanny's return to Mansfield were filled with talking, listening to and consoling Lady Bertram, attending to Tom, and helping Susan to settle in. Fanny was greatly relieved that her efforts to prepare Susan for Aunt Norris' malice were unnecessary. Her aunt was an altered creature, quieted, stupefied, indifferent to everything that passed. Although she was clearly unhappy about Susan's presence, she could not exert herself to apply the small cruelties she had frequently shown Fanny over the years.
Edmund's responsibilities with his parish and the family were heavy, and to her relief Fanny saw little of him in the first days after her return. She was surprised therefore when he approached her in the drawing-room one afternoon. Lady Bertram had fallen asleep while Fanny read to her, and Susan was outdoors exploring the grounds of Mansfield.
"Fanny," Edmund said as he entered. "Will you walk with me? I must speak with you."
Posted on: 2012-01-25
It was a very fine spring day, filled with a gentle breeze and the splendid colours of wildflowers, the kind of day in which Fanny would normally rejoice as she recalled how much she had longed for the country during her stay in Portsmouth.
But not today. Her anxiety was such that she not only failed to notice nature's handiwork around her, she did not immediately recognize that Edmund had drawn her arm within his as they walked. Only when he placed his opposite hand upon hers as it rested at his elbow did she awaken to the sensations of his nearness and touch. The gesture served only to heighten her fear.
They passed through the shrubbery, and Fanny recalled a similar walk with Edmund many months ago. She had been anxious that day as well, feeling pressured by her uncle's insistence that she marry Mr. Crawford, and fearful that Edmund was against her for refusing him. Edmund reassured her that day that he was not, which was a great comfort to her.
"This comfort you might have had sooner, Fanny, had you sought it," he had told her that day. Remembering his words, Fanny tried to calm her nerves. Edmund would always be her friend, regardless of his response to her letter.
When they were some distance from the house, he finally spoke. "I must beg your forgiveness, Fanny," he began, "for neglecting you since your return to Mansfield."
"Oh, no, Edmund!" she protested. "I know the burdens that are upon you now. You have many pressing concerns. Please do not trouble yourself on my account."
"But I must," he said, "for you asked me not to delay my response, and yet I have."
Fanny looked to the ground, for she could not bear to see his face. "You have read my letter," she whispered.
"Yes, and I owe you a thoughtful response."
"I should not have written such a letter!" she cried. "It was the height of presumption and folly! I had no right to say such things, and I have regretted it ever since!"
Edmund stopped walking and turned to face her. She felt the shift in his body, saw his feet turn; but she continued to look down, away from his eyes.
"No, Fanny," he said softly, "you wrote some very important things I needed to hear."
When she did not respond, he lifted her chin with his hand so that she could no longer fail to look at him. His hazel eyes were gentle as they gazed upon hers.
"You were right, you know. You were right about Crawford, and about his sister. You, Fanny, are so young and inexperienced about the world, and yet you saw them for what they are more clearly than any of us."
He must mean that he was no longer under Mary's spell, and yet Fanny did not feel victorious. "Have you spoken with her?" she asked nervously.
"I have. That is why I was not here yesterday. I traveled to London in response to a note from Lady Stornaway, begging me to call. I felt that I had created some expectations in Miss Crawford, and I therefore owed her a last interview of friendship."
He went on to relate his shocking conversation with Mary. "From the moment I read your letter, dear Fanny, I knew you spoke the truth about her, and yet part of me didn't want to believe it. I wondered how I could have been so blind! Perhaps it was my pride, but I wanted to know that the goodness I had believed in her was real, that the woman I had been too apt to dwell on for many months past had not simply been a creature of my imagination."
Fanny bit her lip, crushed in spirit. Edmund's eyes had been opened, but his heart was still captured.
"And what did you discover?" she finally forced herself to ask.
"How right you were, Fanny, about everything." He told her of Mary's schemes to lessen the scandal of Henry and Maria's affair, of her concern about the folly of their indiscretion rather than the sin of their betrayal. "Guess what I must have felt. To hear the woman whom--no harsher name than folly given! So voluntarily, so freely, so coolly to canvass it! No reluctance, no horror, no feminine, shall I say, no modest loathings? This is what the world does. For where, Fanny, shall we find a woman whom nature had so richly endowed? Spoilt, spoilt!"
He continued until his story was told, his voice warm with emotion. It was clear that no alliance would ever take place between Edmund and Mary; but whether he would recover from the heartbreak was uncertain. When he had finished, Fanny said quickly in her agitation, "I am so sorry, Edmund, for your pain, but as you now know Miss Crawford's true character, I hope that it will be of short duration. Now I must return to the house, for my Aunt Bertram may be in need of me."
She turned, but he grabbed her hand to stop her. "Wait, Fanny! I have not given you my response to the second part of your letter!"
Her voice thick, she could not stop the tears that filled her eyes. "I do not believe I wish to hear your answer."
"Oh, Fanny," he said softly, and reached with his thumb to wipe a tear off her cheek. At his touch, Fanny stopped breathing.
"I received your letter the same day I got word of Tom's condition, and I regret that I did not have time to read it immediately. When I was finally able to read it the following day, I was stunned, to say the least. I had had no idea you felt this way, Fanny."
"And you were disgusted," she said sadly.
Edmund placed his hands on her shoulders. "Disgusted? Oh no, Fanny, never! I was embarrassed, yes, that I could have known you so well and not have realized... and ashamed that I had pushed you so hard toward Crawford, insensitive to your feelings. And above all I was confused, for I meant to marry Miss Crawford, didn't I?"
Fanny closed her eyes. He had not read her words with disgust, but...
Edmund continued. "Before I read your letter, I had attended Tom for more than a day, uncertain that he would recover. How I longed at that time for someone at my side to give me strength and comfort!"
He took her hand, lifted it to his lips and kissed it. "Fanny, in such moments, a man needs a wife, a life's partner; and yet never once did I think of having Mary beside me. I wanted, and needed, only you."
Fanny gasped and opened her eyes, fresh tears falling on her face. "Oh, Edmund..."
He smiled, caressing her fingers with his own. "My dearest Fanny, when I was finally able to read your letter and my initial shock and confusion cleared, I knew that you had been right again. I had been blind while you could see. How did I not know that my heart had always belonged to you?"
She was sobbing now, and Edmund took her into his arms. She forced herself to be calm, pulling away only to search her apron pockets for a handkerchief. Her beloved soon supplied one of his own. As she wiped her face, her tears turned to laughter. Surely she must look wretched in this, her happiest moment! "Oh, Edmund, forgive me..."
"There is nothing to forgive, my dearest. Please forgive me for not speaking to you sooner. I knew that I needed to end any connection to Mary Crawford first."
Fanny nodded. The man she loved had done the honorable thing.
"And now, my dearest, most beloved Fanny, will you make me the happiest man on earth by agreeing to be my wife?"
"Oh, yes, Edmund, yes!" she cried. In an instant, she was in his arms again, feeling the warmth and joy of his embrace.
Fanny had a sudden thought and attempted to pull away. "Your father!" she cried. "He will not approve."
Edmund smiled affectionately. "He has already given his consent! He and I have talked about you a great deal lately. My father is sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, and prizes more and more the sterling good of principle and temper. He sees the goodness and value you have brought to me, and to all of us, Fanny. Indeed, I think he sees in you the daughter that he always wanted."
Unaccustomed to her dreams coming true, Fanny could scarcely believe her ears. Edmund drew her closer and she felt his lips against her hair, her cheek, and then to her delight, her mouth. This was wonder; this was elation. To think that this comfort, this joy might have been hers sooner! With her beloved Edmund at her side, she would never again fear to share what was in her heart.