Posted on Sunday, 15 October 2006
Tying a cravat had never seemed so cumbersome before; it was as if every loop required the utmost effort. Truth be told, Edmund Bertram had not the desire to dress today, nor even the desire to get out of bed. Today he was going to officiate a wedding. Normally, he loved bringing two people together in matrimony, it was one of the reasons he had gone into the church in the first place. Yet, today was different; he would rather have drunken poison than utter the words that were soon to leave his mouth.
Today he was officiating the marriage of Fanny Price to Henry Crawford.
Edmund couldn't recollect the moment he began to fall in love with Fanny, but he did remember the exact moment he knew he couldn't live without her. They had been sitting in the rose garden outside Mansfield, the perfumed fragrance of the roses combined with gentle breeze had been a heady combination; the type of atmosphere were the heart’s deepest desires would bubble up to the surface. They had sought some respite from the madness that was Mansfield, Tom had begun to improve after his illness and the entire family was ensconced within Mansfield's walls. Maria and Julia were home to visit him and Mr. and Ms. Crawford had once more become near permanent fixtures at the estate.
As they sat side by side on the little bench, Edmund as always had been acutely aware of Fanny. She had been wearing a gown of pale peach that set of her skin beautifully; yet, usually demure smile was marred by an emotion he could not place. As she looked up at him and smiled it did not quite seem to reach her eyes.
"Fanny, what plagues you my dear? You seem troubled,"
"Not troubled so much as rather anxious, I have some news which I am rather sure you will be pleased at, I myself am not quite sure about it and would like to seek your advice."
"Why of course dearest, you know I am always here at your service,"
"Actually, I had noticed that you and Ms. Crawford had become rather closer of late, and it seems that she is quite resigned herself to being married to clergyman, so I know not how much longer you shall be exclusively at my service" she laughed then, a hollow empty laugh "It seemed that everyone around me has begun to settle down, and it seems...it appears that...well perhaps I should say that I am not getting any younger and I feel as if I should not be a burden evermore to your parents...so when Mr. Crawford renewed his proposal yet another time last night…I told him that…well, I accepted." Here she stopped and looked up with the most earnest expression he had ever seen and asked "Did I do right? Accepting a man I do not love and have only begun to slightly respect?"
Edmund's head had begun to spin, as much as he had encouraged Fanny towards Henry, as much as he had thought that the match would be wonderful for her and only serve to bring her closer to him and Mary in the future, suddenly the thought of someone, anyone kissing his Fanny made him nauseated. He saw suddenly how it would be, someone else would be at the receiving end of her gentle smiles, she would turn to someone else with her earnest remarks on the beauty of the stars, it would be someone else’s arm she would lean on during her long walks. It seemed as if he had encouraged her affections elsewhere because it was safer than admitting to himself what he had known all along, that he loved her. He loved her deeply, passionately and unreservedly. There were no conditions in his love for her, she was utterly perfect and the realization that he was suddenly about to lose her fell on him like a bucket of ice water. He had courted Mary in a rejection of his love for Fanny, he had sought out the firecracker that was Ms. Crawford in order to forget. She had been as different from Fanny as two women could be. Yet, he had never been able to truly forget, he had arranged everything for Fanny, the outings to Southerton, the ball, the chain for her cross- all simply to make her happy. He had been ever aware of her smiles and tiny triumphs and had almost deliberately kept away from her, drowning himself in Mary in order to ignore his growing love for a woman he had long thought of as just a dear relation.
It had seemed wrong to love the girl he had grown up with. He had often reasoned with himself, ‘surely it had just been a deep cousinly affection, and surely he was not in love with her.’ He had always been told that he needed someone with spirit, someone with fortune, someone who was more than simple Fanny Price. Surely he was not in love with his little cousin, it was merely a passing fancy.
Yet on that fateful afternoon he knew, what he had tried so long to forget had reared his head once more. He loved her. And it was too late.
It seemed as if some other mouth spoke the words of congratulations that tumbled from his mouth, they were so foreign to him. “I hardly know what to say, this is just such a surprise. I had not thought…I mean your prior refusals of him had indicated…I don’t know the answer to that question Fanny,” he finished lamely as his brain screamed for him to take her in his arms and kiss her frown away. Yet he merely stood and walked towards a little bush and plucked aimlessly at its leaves. “You are the best judge of conduct I have ever met, I can not advise you in this matter. Please do not ask me why. Let me just say that you will know what to do.”
As he spoke he knew that a few gentle hints away from Crawford were all it would take to sway Fanny away. Yet he could not, nay, he would not do so. Crawford, in his dogged pursuit of Fanny had done what Edmund never could- he had followed his heart. Did not Fanny deserve that unabashed kind of love? Edmund was heartily ashamed of his own cowardice at that moment, he had always known on some level that he was in love with her yet until this moment had never been able to fully accept it. Crawford on the other hand had seen what he wanted and pursued it endlessly. He would not sway Fanny from such a lover, she would be treasured in such a marriage. And then how would it seem to her that her confidant, a man she had only viewed until this moment as a beloved friend, was confessing his ardent love to her? She would be frightened and appalled; she could not love him with all of his bumbling flaws and awkward manner. She had always seen him as a friend and, he winced as he thought this, a brother.
Fanny rose from her seat and moved towards the house, stating in her soft voice, “As you wish Cousin, I shall think upon this matter. I suppose you shall know in the morning.” And with that she was gone.
He did not see her again until the following evening, when at dinner a very pained looking Sir Thomas announced their engagement. For a man who had sought to advance such a union even by the banishment of a beloved niece he appeared utterly distraught. Most of the people at the dinner assumed it was his continued fear for his Heir’s life that plagued him with worry. Yet two of those assembled around the table knew his true concern. The evening prior, Sir Thomas had come across a heated argument between his eldest daughter and Mr. Crawford.
“ I cannot believe you would marry such a mousy, insignificant creature when you could have…you could still have me,” Maria exclaimed turning away from Crawford.
“We both know that is impossible, I love Fanny- she is a good little soul and will be content with me in a way you never could be. She will keep my house and reward me with her polite smiles and it shall be rather sedately wonderful. With you and I it is all passion, I have loved tasting your lips,” and as he said this he planted a kiss on her pouting mouth, “and feeling your body pressed against mine.”
“Then what about us,” Maria asked interrupting. “Shall Fanny satisfy you like I have,” she snorted.
“Oh my Maria, I can still give you my love; I confess that I may have some needs that my marriage to Fanny will never fulfill.” At this he snaked a hand down the bodice of her gown.
Sir Thomas could stand no more, he had observed this scene solely to hear the extent of their clandestine relationship but he could no longer witness such villainy in silence. “Unhand my daughter Sir!” He said in a deathly low voice, the pair separated with a start. Maria turning pale at the sight of him and running from the room.
“What in God’s name do you think you are doing Sir?” asked Sir Thomas, his face livid with fury.
“Ending a previous entanglement, so I can start afresh in my marriage to your niece, she has accepted me this morning you know” Crawford said smoothly, he had never feared the Bertram patriarch like the others had, not even now.
“I shall be damned to Hell if I let my sweet Fanny marry a poisonous snake such as you,” he exclaimed in fury.
Here Crawford paused, for all the things he had been in the past- dishonest, caddish, and manipulative he had never been downright villainous. Yet he had over the years become extremely accustomed to getting his way, and now that he had finally won over Fanny he was not about to let her go without a fight. “I would not be so rash if I were you Sir Thomas, as you have seen here tonight, your daughter Maria’s conduct has been far less than exemplary and I have quite a great deal of information and evidence that might of be some interest to the Ton, particularly her husband and the esteemed Dowager Mrs. Rushworth.”
“You would not,” Sir Thomas said approaching him, “I shall kill you with my bare hands before that happens.”
“Just hear me out on this matter Sir Thomas, I love your niece, I honestly truly do. I shall make her an excellent and attentive husband, it shall be a splendid match for her and to deny her this would be robbing her of a lifetime of happiness and security. All I ask for is your silence, with that silence you shall gain the happiness of your niece,” and with a meaningful glance, “while protecting the honor of a most beloved daughter.”
Sir Thomas sank into a chair, burying his head into his hands; he choked down a sob with some difficulty.
“Do not act rashly Sir, think upon this matter; upon further reflection you will find that not only is it a rather satisfactory option, it is in fact your only option.” With that Henry turned and walked out of the room.
It was with a heavy heart that Sir Thomas announced their engagement the next day, he had received some assurance from Crawford earlier confirming that he would give up all contact with Mrs. Rushworth and be true to Fanny. For as Sir Thomas said, “I would rather ruin that thoughtless child than doom Fanny to a miserable life with a duplicitous rake as a spouse, no one deserves that…least of all an Angel like Fanny.”
After the announcement at dinner, Edmund had purposefully avoided Mary Crawford’s meaningful glances and removed himself to Thornton Lacy for a week spent in a veritable wine induced stupor. When it was announced that the wedding would take place in two weeks time in order to take advantage of William’s presence before his sailing to the West Indies, Edmund wanted to die.
The ensuing weeks had been a veritable world wind of preparations and apart from wistful glances at his beloved, Edmund had had very few opportunities for conversation with Fanny.
So had it come to this point where Edmund was charged with the dreadful task of officiating the marriage of the woman he loved. Before setting out to the church he took a generous gulp of cognac, never having been a drinking man he should have been unprepared for the burning sensation that followed but in his distraught state he barely noticed.
As he stood before the congregation, time seemed to pass in a blur until the moment she appeared at the door. Never before had he beheld a more beautiful sight, she wore an ivory gown with only the slightest adornment, around her neck was the simple cross and his chain. She had not worn the Crawford necklace, and he was slightly gratified. Her hair had been arranged most becomingly beneath a sheer veil that only seemed to enhance her gentle beauty. The sunlight streamed onto her person, illuminating her like an Angel.
It was only a discrete cough that prompted Edmund to begin the service. He spoke with a rote mechanism, his eyes continually drifting back to the sadness in her eyes. Those eyes which compelled him, those eyes that seemed to beseech him. When he arrived at the passage, “should anyone here have an objection, speak now or forever hold your peace,” he paused; it was at that moment that Fanny seemed to mouth the word ‘Edmund’ and he was a lost man. The book of scriptures was shut closed and he was before her.
“I cannot do this Fanny, I am so deeply sorry, But as much as this shall shock and pain all that are gathered here; I love you. I always have…and I confess I am not man enough to go through with this.”
Tears had begun to stream down Fanny’s face at this point, she turned away from Edmund to a rather stupefied Crawford, “I’m so deeply sorry Mr. Crawford, but I cannot marry you. I cannot…I am so very sorry,” she said before turning and running down the aisle.
Edmund took off after her and had almost reached her when she abruptly stopped and turned around. She was almost sobbing. “Why now, why tell me this now?”
“I had not the courage to admit it my self let alone to you that I loved you, that I always had. I could not take advantage of your gentle nature by revealing my love for you; you would have accepted me out of gratitude. I know now that I should have trusted you with that decision. Yet I could not believe that you could love such a flawed, foolish man as myself. Someone so wretched as to confess his love to a bride on her wedding day?” With this he laughed a tortured laugh.
“Don’t, please don’t,” she said shaking her head.
“What? Tell you that I love you? That I’ve always loved you? That I think you are the most perfect creature that has ever breathed air? That I could at your lovely face all day? That I want to kiss away your worries and grow old with you discussing Shakespeare? That my hand tingles when you hold it? That I want to protect you from the world and to learn from your wisdom? That I am greedy and want your smiles and laughter all to myself? That I only wanted you to be happy? That I spoke now because I was convinced that you were not? That I am so pompous as to presume your feelings? That I am an utterly imperfect man that loves such an utterly perfect woman? With each word he had continued to approach her until he was before her, “I am so sorry Fanny, but I must say these things even though it seems I have utterly ruined your…”
It was here that the most unexpected thing happened, that all of the parishioners who had been listening with rapt attention, gasped. Many claim that even years later they can still recall the sight, after all it being the most interesting occurrence ever to happen in that church for several generations. It was at that moment that the woman who had been labeled ‘insipid,’ ‘mousy,’ ‘chaste,’ and ‘dull’ reached up towards Edmund and brought his lips to hers in the most passionate kiss that many of them had ever seen.
It was at that moment that pandemonium broke loose. Sir Thomas was heard exclaiming, “Thank God.” The proclamations of “Good God” were mingled with “Shocking,” and “How Romantic.” Yet to the two people standing in the aisle locked in an embrace decades in the making it seemed as if the world stood still.
When they finally broke apart, Fanny her face flushed, touched her fingers to her lips and smiled, “I have loved you for as long as I have known you, it seems we are both cowards.”
“I suppose we could teach ourselves a good harsh lesson by imposing ourselves on one another for all eternity,” he took both her hands, “will you marry me, my sweetest most wonderful friend?”
“Nothing should make me happier,” she said with a smile that lit up her eyes, and a laugh as pure as a tinkling bell, “after all, I’m already dressed for the occasion.”
Days later when Sir Thomas told them of the Devil’s bargain he had made, both Fanny and Edmund were flushed with relief that Edmund had not been quite so proper a Clergyman and that the love that had so long simmered beneath the surface had revealed itself in just the nick of time.