Posted on 2013-01-21
The last few months had been nothing more than a quick succession of catastrophic events for Henry Crawford. It all began when Edmund Bertram proposed marriage to Crawford's sister, Mary. Mary just had a night full of fun and frivolity, of wealthy men flattering and adoring her. She spoke with her head and not her heart when she refused Bertram. She told Crawford that she could have anyone, no matter that her heart already belonged to a stodgy country clergyman. Crawford was a bit confused though how Mary refusing Edmund could cause her spirits to sink so low.
Bertram left London in a huff, decrying love and beautiful faces. He fled to Portsmouth to cry his heart out on Fanny Price's shoulder. The wonderful creature always did offer him a sympathetic ear. The cousins returned to Mansfield and before Henry could escape from town and Mrs. Rushworth's advances to follow the pair, Mary tore through his house, newspaper in hand. She threw herself into her brother's arms and sobbed.
"He will marry her." was all Mary managed to say.
Crawford felt at a loss; he guided Mary to a sofa and pried the newspaper from her hand. The announcement that Edmund Bertram was to marry Frances Price was very unwelcome. All he could remember was losing himself in a bottle of brandy and thinking that Maria Rushworth was not a wholly bad source for temporary amusement.
He woke up the next day on his study sofa. The life he had hoped for was in ruins and now that his head was clearer, not even Mrs. Rushworth's charms could make him forget the despair—the regret.
A day ago the marriage announcement had appeared in the society column. No amount of time would have prepared him for his sense of loss. He knew the ceremony was coming, but he couldn't help but hope that his Fanny would back out, or that Bertram would realize how Fanny could not replace Mary and set Fanny free.
A night of drunken solitude followed and Crawford again found himself waking on his study's sofa.
A throat cleared behind him. "Excuse me, sir; a lady awaits you in the drawing room."
"Send her away."
"She claims pressing business, sir."
"I neither care, nor want to know of her business. Send her away."
The door closed and Crawford turned to lay on his back. He harbored no curiosity towards his unwanted visitor. He knew it would never be the woman he wanted it to be, so what did he care for other women?
There was a chorus of hesitant knocks at the door. Crawford groaned, his patience running thin with this sudden flux of timid servants. He sat up and hunched over, elbows on knees with his head in his heads and permitted the servant to enter. The door opened, but no one crossed the threshold. Crawford lifted his head with an angry reprimand on his lips, but the person he saw checked him.
"Your man said you would not see me, so I—I insisted on seeing you. Forgive me." She moved into the room and shut the door behind her. The clicking of the latch echoed loudly throughout the room.
"You are a long way from Northamptonshire." He dropped his head back into his hands.
"Yes." A succinct agreement to his obvious statement; he felt her sit next to him. He must be dreaming. Never in real life would Frances Price—Bertram—share a sofa with him.
She placed a hand on his arm. "You are not dreaming."
Had he voiced that thought aloud? He turned his head to look at her. He noticed first that her eyes were tired and to his great sadness they glistened with unshed tears.
"What could have happened that you would come to me so soon after your marriage?" His words seemed to be the lever to release a dam of tears. She covered her face with her hands and Crawford could not resist taking her in his arms. Her hands moved from her face to wrap around him, her head resting on his shoulder.
"He never loved me. I should have known he never could." She pulled back and looked Crawford straight in the eye. "When he kissed me, I felt him thinking of her." She faltered and looked down. She brought her hands around to fidget with a button on her traveling coat. "I finally realized that it would always be her…and never me." She took a deep breath. "That morning I chanced to see him before we were due at the church. He was in the library. I could hear him—he was drinking as if to encourage himself—as if marrying me were the last thing he ever wanted to do, as if I am nothing more than a last resort." Crawford pulled her to him as tears overwhelmed her.
"You did not marry him?" He couldn't stop his hope from flaring. When he felt her shake her head, he released a breath and drew her closer.
"Before I knew what I did, I was in Northampton switching from the wedding carriage to the post." She lifted her head towards his. "I cannot go back."
"Why come to me?"
"You love me." Her tone implied that her simple explanation was obvious enough. Crawford searched her face, which made her confidence waver and she began to pull away. "I—I—I suppose I should not have presumed—"
"Shush." He brought his hands up to caress her cheek and rested his forehead against hers. He could not let her stutter through an unnecessary explanation. He was quite shameless and it did not much matter why she came to him.
"I love you, Fanny." He brushed his lips against her cheek.
"They will search for me." Her eyes begged him for assurance against her family finding her.
"Let them search." He whispered in her ear. "I will keep you safe. Always."The End