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A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

February 01, 2015 03:43AM
AN: Yes, I started this story in 2009. Yes, I had a debilitating case of writer's block. And yes, I've literally thought about this story off-and-on for the last five and a half years between major life events. Today, for no particular reason, I figured out the annoyingly obvious answer to my problem. I'll attribute it to being older and wiser. This is a quick chapter to get back into the swing of things and before I lose the idea entirely.

For Henry: "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" John 8:31-32


---
Chapter 6

That Henry’s meeting with Fanny Price did not go to plan was a generous description. The carriage was cold and his muscles ached, something he attributed to tension rather than the weather. He should have taken his horse straight to London. Sitting passively inside a rolling carriage with naught else to do but meditate on his feelings made for an interminable, inglorious trip.

Yes, he was still angry. It was a dull hurt now, centered on his overwhelming disappointment in failing her, in not supporting her in the moment and, likely, forever after. In the immediate aftermath the anger had been, shall we say, hotter. For the many terrible things one could say about his character, however, Henry Crawford was not a man prone to violence or outbursts. Happily, his anger rarely ended in worse than a terrible, impulsive decision. Unhappily, being angry over Fanny Price made that terrible, impulsive decision a little moreso than usual.

I’m an idiot. And so the carriage rolled on and on and on to London.

It was hard to think back on the conversation, if one could call a meeting that involved a person talking and another trying to not talk a conversation. It had gone so horribly awry from the script he’d written across his mind during the rainy afternoon that at first kept him from Mansfield Park. He had come there to reassure her. Now, she could only be assured that he was a thoughtless, overbearing brute. In the moment he had felt like the Scottish king at the center of the stage, all eyes on him as he tumbled toward his dread fate.

His concern for Fanny Price, ever-present if atrociously communicated, reasserted at the end. She needed his help, and not in a way that he would have hoped. Furthest from, in fact, Henry sighed to the empty carriage. He had promised her that he would settle things with Sir Thomas because it was the right and necessary thing to do. Murkier were the details about how to do so. He had to immediately end his courtship without giving Sir Thomas reason to censure Fanny as the cause of it, all the while protecting her secret admiration and nursing a jealous heart. He’d hated his plan but, short on time and alternatives, dove into it with the customary energy of having made up his mind.

In the cold of the carriage he hated it still. He was only more certain that he had had no better choice. His character must fall if she was to have peace. If that didn’t cut the figure of a Shakespearean tragic hero, he didn’t know what did.

***

Henry Crawford receives a withering look in answer to his question. Sir Thomas’s stare pins him at the shoulders. “I hope to find you overzealous in describing your failings.” But Sir Thomas knows that he is not. He knows with an intuition that has failed him so often in recent years.

***
After her confrontation with Henry Crawford, Fanny retreated to comforting surroundings. To meet him with equanimity on a normal evening was hard enough; to do so on the subject of a secret that she had confessed to no one was impossible.

He was rude.

He was demanding.

He was candid.

He kissed her.

His behavior was reprehensible. But if she let herself consider what he said rather than how he said it, she could value – how could she not? –his insight into her plight and the apology he left her with. It troubled Fanny enough that it was easier to reflect on his thoughtlessness than on his truth.

She did not have long to indulge her offended sense of decorum before Sir Thomas sent for her. It was as Henry promised and yet so much more than that. Rather than rejoice in her newfound freedom, Fanny mourned in solitude when she could escape, saddened by the pain he must have been subjected to. It was too much; she would not have asked for this. Fanny could see, at last, the hurt beneath Henry’s parting concern for her in his calm voice and guarded eyes. She could not have managed his composure – did not manage it, for her part. It was an act of love, terrifying as only Henry Crawford could perform.

Despite everything, Fanny suspected that it was not the last time she would see Henry Crawford, not with the Grants so close. She felt that the character that he had first sullied, then salvaged, and finally deliberately sunk to spare her pain deserved better than this. How much Fanny wished that she could have understood its worth without Henry having to ruin it to prove it to her.

***

Frustration flares his nostrils. “I will assume your non-answer is, in fact, a conviction of guilt. You told me once that you believed Mr. Crawford insincere. I will also assume that this is the reason for it.”

“I must beg to add that since then, he has behaved with the utmost – with decorum and kindness.”

“Behavior you think to be short lived.”

“I don’t know.” Finally, a truth that does not pain Fanny to acknowledge.

“Clearly, he does not share your uncertainty. Fanny,” Sir Thomas pauses, exhaustion slipping into his voice, “I’ll confess to my disappointment in your candor. Unbelievably, it seems the reprehensible Mr. Crawford alone had the fortitude, however late, to do what this family would not.”


***
When in a state as Henry Crawford’s, one can best focus on mundane priorities. In this case, his role as courier for his sister’s correspondence. Mary greeted him at her home with her usual, extraordinary enthusiasm, and if it was greater because she wondered of Edmund Bertram, he could not tell the difference.

It was late morning and though London was crisp, Mary and her home embodied summer elegance. “Tell me you bring word.”

“I do.” Henry waved the letter, holding it away from Mary’s grasping hand.

“Henry, give it here. You are such a scamp!”

His smile appeared unbidden, helpless in the face of his sister’s antics. “I have something to tell you first. Something I’d rather relate now so that you can find consolation after in the delight of reading your letter.”

“Not about Edmund?” Mary’s dark eyes narrowed from levity to caution.

“No. Not about Edmund.”

“Fanny, then. Oh, Henry, what did you do?”

His laugh was short but genuine. Mary’s only complaint with Fanny Price had ever been that she would not marry him. Any difficulty, any trouble, must be his doing, not hers.

“You’re going to be unhappy with me.”

“Henry, if you don’t tell me soon, I can promise you that I will be very much so.”

“I told Sir Thomas the truth.”

He received a blank look in answer, to which Mary added droll levity because it would not do to have no reaction at all. “You are utterly cryptic today. Very well, I am not too proud to beg. Pray, tell me what truth you confessed to.”

He affected lightness. “Maria and Julia.”

Maria and Julia. You’re joking.”

“The punchline does need work, doesn’t it?”

She hit him on the arm. “Explain yourself now.”

And so he did in succinct detail. Her chaise was more comfortable than it looked and tiredness overwhelmed him. For her part, an incredulous Mary sank into the chaise at Henry’s side long before he finished. The brevity worked in his favor, the better to avoid revealing Fanny’s secret to his sister. He rarely kept secrets from Mary, but it was not his to tell. Even if it were, he’d hardly want to discuss her friend’s love for her paramour.

“Your reputation is safe, Mary. I took pains to ensure he saw this as my folly, not that of our family.”

“It was all nothing! All this over nothing. Of course, he would not see it as nothing. He is Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park. But you know better than that. Surely you could have found some other way.”

“Could you have? I had long to think on it – after, at least.” He hadn’t paid attention to precisely when in the story he’d begun to indulge in a glass of wine. Regardless, it hadn’t chased away the chill of the carriage. “It was not nothing, Mary. It was the secret kept by Fanny Price, when she could have delivered it to Sir Thomas at any time, instead choosing to protect Julia and Maria and through them me. It was the barrier to the marriage I never knew I wanted.”

“But you’ve divided yourself from her.”

“Ah. I was always divided from her.”

“I wish I’d never let you near Maria Rushworth.”

“You were hardly in a position to stop me. And it’s for the best, no? I might have married Fanny Price without such self-awareness and ruined everything.”

“You think too little of yourself, brother.” Mary shook her head in dismay. “And what of her! Doomed to die a spinster or marry some indifferent man. You could have made her.”

It stung more than he liked to admit. Even with his departure, Fanny’s marriage to Edmund was not assured. In fact, he was dangerously self-interested in seeing his sister’s happiness attained. “I’m damaged, Mary, not defeated. Perhaps it is as they say. ‘The truth will set you free’.”

“You sly thing. You have a plan.”

“A… hope. No plan yet, but to lick my wounds and enjoy your company.” He toasts her with his nearly empty glass. “I did get one measure of satisfaction.”

“Oh?”

“Liberal use of certain names in the sordid tale who will hardly come out looking better than me.”

“Still more than they deserve.” Mary squeezes his free hand. “I’ll help you set this to right. I can have no family at Mansfield without you.”

“Family then, is it?”

She scowled, the derision in it clearly self-directed. “We both have our hopes. Now that you’ve ruined my morning, I want my letter before you ruin my afternoon.” Caution returned to Mary’s eyes. “You aren’t going to ruin my afternoon, are you?”

He hesitated theatrically, before delivering the letter with an eloquent gesture. “You’ll have to tell me.”
SubjectAuthorPosted

A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

Susan C.February 01, 2015 03:43AM

Re: A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

JJoannaJuly 17, 2015 09:11PM

Lovely! Please finish it! (nfm)

IasMarch 29, 2015 01:43PM

Re: A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

Evie A.March 07, 2015 06:14AM

Re: A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

InesFebruary 22, 2015 03:41PM

Re: A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

Agnes BeatrixFebruary 03, 2015 05:42PM

Re: A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

ShannaGFebruary 02, 2015 04:43PM

Re: A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

kberlinFebruary 02, 2015 04:38PM

Re: A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

BethWFebruary 02, 2015 06:17AM

Re: A Better Course of Action (Chapter 6)

kberlinFebruary 02, 2015 04:41PM

FYI - Link to original story

Susan C.February 01, 2015 03:05PM



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