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ManGo, Ch14

October 08, 2015 11:24AM

Mansfield Gothic

Chapter 14: in which I merit a treat from my aunt

In Mr. Crawford’s first act of our courtship, he asks to take a turn with me on the gravel. My uncle agrees with alacrity on my behalf with one small adjustment. He substitutes a promenade in the portrait gallery for a stroll outside. The gallery has the same balance of being suitably public that we will not need a chaperone yet sufficiently remote that we may speak privately. It also does not require me to change my shoes or fetch my cloak, so we may proceed there directly.

As my uncle watches us depart, I can tell that he is pleased to see me practically carried off against my will since my will is such a dreadful and perverse thing.

I keep silent, knowing better than to trust my temper, so it is Mr. Crawford who speaks first.

"Surely you have noticed that something is the matter with Sir Thomas," he opens quietly.

Surely what is the matter is not limited to my uncle. I warn him that I did not free him from Possession so that he might continue his scandalous ways of flirting with every female that draws breath in the country.

"I am not plotting, Miss Price. I did not intend to ask to court you," he impresses on me. "I merely spoke to Sir Thomas of how Mrs. Grant was recovering from yesterday's shock and how quickly we might expect Dr. Grant to return when he received the letter from the express. There was a coin hidden under the seal, and as soon as Sir Thomas touched it, his demeanor changed." His brow clouds and his voice drops to a raspy whisper. "I have seen coins like this before, Miss Price; I know what they do to a person."

I recall what he had told me earlier involving William. "Are you saying that Edmund sent his father a Mark?" I ask, astounded.

"The letter was not from your cousin, or else he is already in London," he says. "I recognized the rider; he is employed by Mr. and Mrs. Frazer, with whom my sister is currently staying."

This is vile! This is treachery! I had thought that, despite the number of innocents she might Possess in Northamptonshire, that her influence would wane while she was gone.

"Once he held the coin, Sir Thomas read the letter then tossed it into the fire and sent the messenger away without a response," continues Mr. Crawford. "When we were alone again, he wasted no time in asking my intentions toward you and whether I was prepared to propose marriage immediately."

He lets that sink in briefly. "I would not agree to anything so precipitous but it became clear to me that I must agree to something; a courtship was the least offensive option. Once he had arranged that to his satisfaction, he sent for you and instructed me to hide in the next room before you arrived. It was as uncomfortable to me as it must have been to you but I apologize for my part in it.”

I accept his apology with as much attention as I can spare, for he has given me much more to think about.

What is this demon planning? Has it identified me as the hunter who has been killing demons in Northamptonshire for the last six years in greater and greater numbers, or does it merely wish a bit of sport with innocent Fanny Price?

"Does your sister know who I am?" I blurt out, then correct, "William and I? Does she know we are her enemies? Is that why she has set you upon me?"

This has never occurred to him before. "I do not think so," he says. "I doubt it. Mary was always fond of matchmaking but since, since Aunt Crawford's death she has developed a taste for crueller amusement. She sees you as... Well, she sees you as weak. She said she wanted you to succumb to a temptation, but it is no more than she has done to others. You are just another diversion while she hunts a larger game."

He stumbles across those last words and falls silent, looking at me warily.

“What will you do about Sir Thomas?” he changes the subject.

I confess the easiest thing will be to take the coin from him while he sleeps or, if that proves a challenge, perhaps I can break the curse on it, rendering it worthless. Doing so would tip my hand, but it might not have a significant effect; it cannot be long now before I am discovered. And to imagine a dark influence on my uncle is unsettling. As the master of Mansfield Park, he has a great deal of authority and a demon who Possesses him could wreak significant damage on the area.

But my answer only prompts him to wonder if I might perform the same service at the parsonage. Having freed Mrs. Grant and Mr. Crawford has not ended their troubles. "We are being watched,” he says with a touch of desperation. “The others know something is wrong with us, something is different, and they are trying to find out what. I am expected to win your affections; everyone knows of it; it was freely canvassed in the parsonage ever since the Rushworths’ wedding. I was only to await your brother's promotion before beginning my campaign in earnest."

He keeps talking about how he cannot eat or sleep, how he has not had a moment's comfort since his aunt died, but that might be preferable to the terror he feels every time the maid walks by. "Sir Thomas’ recent behavior merely underscores the precariousness of the situation. You may have freed the two of us, Miss Price, but until the others are also freed, you have merely exchanged a bondage of will with a bondage of fear."

It is not a bad speech -- some of his Possessed charm must come naturally -- but I do not see why I am to blame. I am not, by training or profession, a liberator; and Mr. Crawford should be grateful, all things considered, that I did not kill him prematurely.

I count to five before speaking, a habit acquired from spending time with the Bertrams. Still, I do not sound acquiescent. "Mr. Crawford, as I was trying to tell Mrs. Grant earlier today, violently removing your Mark triggered a reaction. Likewise with hers. The more we repeat, the bigger of a reaction we can expect. While these people are controlled -- even though their master has left the area -- they may be commanded to try to protect their Marks or even to cause harm to those who attempt to free them. I do not wish to injure these people needlessly by provoking them when they are not my true quarry, although" -- I admit -- "Sir Thomas can do too much harm in this state to let him persist. The best way for all involved would be to kill the master; I have witnessed that first hand only a few months ago and I must say, compared to your experience, it is much preferable."

"Then who is the master now?" Mr. Crawford asks in affronted innocence. “You cannot mean my sister Mary.”

Crawford has seen too much to remain in ignorance. "I am afraid, sir, that we are not talking about Mary Crawford anymore," I try to sound gentle. "We are dealing with an imposter."

"That is not possible," he says with a shake of his head. "How could any one person look like her, sound like her, smile like her, even play the harp exactly like her, and not be her? No, she is under someone's control, just as I was. You must help me free her when she returns to Mansfield."

"This is not my area of expertise," I confess, "but I believe you only thought she was like your sister because she commanded you to think so."

"This is ridiculous," he cries in exasperation then remembers to check his volume. "If she is not my sister, then who is she?"

"After all you have been through, can you honestly have no idea?" I wonder aloud.

"No, I do not, and I would dearly like someone to explain it to me."

That is as close to a proper opening as I may ever receive. "Mr. Crawford, do you believe in God?" I start with the easy question.

"Of course!" He has the nerve to act offended.

"And the angels and saints?"

"Yes," he answers with asperity.

"And what about the devil?" I venture. "And demons?"

Mr. Crawford audibly scoffs. I do not prompt his answer but resolve to wait for it and gaze up at the likenesses of ancestors who are not mine.

"It is not a subject on which one likes to think," he eventually demures. "I suppose they exist but, much like angels, I will never encounter one of them. You do not mean to imply that..." He cannot even say it; I know the feeling too well.

"I am sorry to say that I do believe the one you think to be your sister Mary is a demon in disguise,” I tell him. “After all you have been through, after all she made you do against your will, how can you so readily discard the idea? She had Distracted me before and no doubt others such as yourself -- she was prepared to hide herself in plain view -- but her true nature has been exposed to me now and I will not be deceived again. Make no mistake, when next we meet, I will try to kill her."

"She is my sister," Mr. Crawford claims weakly. "She is just as much a victim here as the rest of us."

"Your sister is dead," I tell him flatly. "She died the same day as your aunt. Since then, a demon has been Impersonating her. You yourself saw the transformation."

"Now it is you who are mad, Miss Price, if you think such things," he chides me with a measure of desperation and grief. The man has, after all, lost a sister a year ago and is only just realizing it. "Demons, what nonsense!"

"There is a very simple test," I say. "Blood will out. That is all I need to prove her humanity. Of course, she will first need to return to the countryside for that, and much may need to happen before then to prepare and lure her here."

I manage to convince Mr. Crawford that he and Mrs. Grant must take no drastic action today by rather ingeniously forbidding it. I tell him that I will pray on the matter tonight and speak with him or his sister again in the morning. In the meantime, I need to know who is Possessed.

He begins listing people in the village. "Alice, you know; and James, the Grants' man of all work; and the cook. And Dr, Grant, obviously. Mr. Nelson, and Mr. Nelson's housekeeper. Mrs. Lytton, the smith's wife. And the girl who runs deliveries for Mr. Nash; Mr. Nash himself. Mrs. Gregson at the post office; everyone else in the post office. All the farmers' wives, really. Most of the girls who are out. Anyone who would accept a trinket from Mary," he concludes. "She gave out ribbons to the girl if she was too poor to accept a chain like the one she offered you. She took a ring from Dr. Grant and when she gave it back to him, he became just like everyone else. And she made Dr. Grant offer a coin to Mr. Peele, but I don't think he took it."

"And my cousins?" I probe, not that I doubt.

"I gave a necklace to Mrs. Rushworth," Crawford admits with a grimace. "I tried giving one to Miss Julia Bertram, but she refused. I think she had spied me flirting with her sister, or perhaps Maria had told her about the necklace I had already given her. Either way, Miss Julia was quite done with me. There was nothing I could offer her that she would accept."

At least there is that!

"And Edmund?" It isn't so much of a question as it is a fear.

"I don't know what she gave him," he admits, "but he is as much under her control as the rest." It hurts to hear, and I want to cling to the hope that Mr. Crawford is wrong, but Possession explains so much of Edmund's odd behaviors. And releasing him from Possession is such an effective way to restore him to his old ways.

"Cousin Tom?"

Here he is thoughtful. "I do not think so," says Mr. Crawford at last. "I never saw her give him anything, and he has been with her so rarely."

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of Cousin Tom's lifestyle, but it may not matter much. Even if Tom is Possessed, he may be too far away to factor into what is going to happen here.

The list is longer than I expected, much longer. Given the number of people involved, it may be impossible for me to wait for Susan. This demon has been quite profligate and fruitful. No wonder the two are so frightened.

Having thoroughly canvassed the area inhabitants, we fall silent by mutual accord until we realize how long we have been gone.

As we hurry through the halls to rejoin my Aunt Bertram, he suddenly stops our progress with a gentle pressure on my arm. "Should we leave the area?" he asks in complete earnestness. "Surely I should take Anna someplace safe until after the baby is born."

I consider it a compliment that he doesn't insist I join them in their flight but perhaps he is being selfish or isn't even thinking of me.

"Why not take her to Everingham," I suggest. "That should be a treat."

He shudders at the idea. "Everingham is not a safe place," he says darkly. "Even if it were not the first place Mary will look, it is full of spies and enemies."

It is a sign of my growing maturity that I do not resolve to do anything it takes, including to marry Mr. Crawford, so that I might go to his home and slay his demons. Surely the person I was three years ago would have eagerly leapt at the chance and have ignored the consequences. The person I am today, however, is more thoughtful and has fought a growing number of demons, and I no longer feel the need to hunt for trouble; I have merely to wait for it and it will find me.

"There are very few safe places," I tell him when it becomes obvious that he is waiting on me to say something. "And I have not been in communication with the people who could recommend one to you."

The poor man is bereft so I offer, against my nature, to inquire of my parents for suggestions. This is a charity to make William proud.

"Will you do that, truly?"

Did I not just say it? I rephrase my offer as a promise. He is so moved that he grabs my hand and presses it in gratitude.

I pull my fingers away. "You may choose to play-act the lover in front of witnesses but when it is just the two of us," I tell him, "let there be no games. I should not wish to believe that you have grown careless and allowed yourself to fall back under the control of a demon."

Perhaps it is more than wise to send him and Mrs. Grant from here. The entire dynamic of our relationship has changed since yesterday, and it is only a matter of time until someone else decides to find out why. I have no desire to out myself as a demon hunter, and the one Impersonating May Crawford seems especially resourceful. If she should learn how it is that I answer my calling to serve the Lord, how easy would it be for her to murder me in my sleep, or order someone from the village to do it for her?

Henry Crawford does not intend to stay long, just to announce to my aunt that he has sought Sir Thomas' permission to court me, and that it has been freely given. My feelings on this topic are not discussed or speculated.

Aunt Bertram and Mrs. Grant are both warm in their congratulations. I detect surprise in Mrs. Grant's response, but my aunt, never fully attentive, can never be really astonished. She does exert herself to invite them to return for supper. "After all," she declares, "we are practically family now."

When our guests depart and it is just the two of us, Lady Bertram wastes no time in calling me to join her on the sofa.

"Well, Fanny," says she, as I settle beside her, her countenance full of extraordinary animation. "Well, Fanny, this is an agreeable surprise! I must speak of it at once; I cannot contain myself any longer. I give you joy, my dear niece. It is not a proposal, not quite; but his admiration is just as public and he is too committed now to retract his interest. I know my sister Norris wished he would choose Julia, and he is not as rich as Mr. Rushworth, but he is still a pleasant, agreeable young man. A pleasant courtship you shall have, and a fine marriage at the end of it." And so saying, she pats my hand, and I fear she will be so carried away by herself that she will throw her arms about my neck and embrace me. "We certainly are a handsome family!" she concludes.

From whence does this emotion spring? Is she confused? "You cannot wish me to marry," I tell her gently, slowly. "You would miss me, should not you, if I would marry and leave Mansfield? I am sure you would miss me too much to wish for that."

"Dear Fanny, I shall have to learn to do without you. So my own mother had to do when Sir Thomas made his offer. It is the duty of every beautiful woman to prosper however she may,” she grants me insight into her personal philosophy, “not merely for her own sake but for all her family. You must accept Mr. Crawford when he comes to the point; you simply must. There can be no exception, no reason to refuse his handsome offer, a man with such a good estate. And there can be no regret in marriage to a man of fortune, let me say that from experience."

Her words make her behavior clearer to me but no more welcome. Can it be that the only real interest I excite in her is to remind her of her own remarkable success in securing the title of Lady Bertram? If that is how she sees me -- as her protégée -- then she is not on my side in this. My only comfort is that Mr. Crawford likewise does not wish for this.

Aunt Bertram thus arrayed against me, I have finally found a subject that merits her conversation. How she now exerts herself! Aunt Bertram does not merely talk, she effuses. Mr. Crawford must have fallen in love with me at the ball, she concludes. "You did look remarkably well that evening.Everybody said so; Sir Thomas said so. And you know you had Chapman to help you to do your hair. Yes, I am sure he fell in love with you that evening."

She rattles on in the same vein for several more minutes. It reaches the point where I wonder if she is as Possessed as my uncle. A subtle examination shows she is as always, only really pleased for me.

"I am very glad I sent Chapman to you," she repeats herself. "And I will tell you what, Fanny, which is more than I did for Maria: the next time Pug has a litter you shall have a puppy!"

What am I to do with a dog? Had I an interest in any of it, how charming she would be. How I would gloat over my cousins the praise and attention heaped upon me! I never saw such fawning when No secured Mr. Rushworth. Alas, it is wasted.

Tired of the topic, I try to turn the conversation and, remembering my promise to Mr. Crawford, I ask if I should write to my family.

"Oh, indeed!" agrees Aunt Bertram. "Tell my sister Price that we will need Susan right away. Sir Thomas must make the arrangements without delay. Courtship is a very romantic notion but we cannot plan on Mr. Crawford waiting forever. I should not be surprised if he comes to the point within the week, in which case you might be married by the middle of February, and be comfortably settled in Norfolk before Easter."

It is all too ridiculous, but I manage to scrawl out a letter that a young man visiting family in the area has asked to court me and that Sir Thomas has agreed. I then carefully phrase that my suitor's sister, Mrs. Grant, is expecting a child and is seeking a healthful place for her confinement. This being her first child, she is nervous and, while she knows to stay away from the noxious airs of London, she feels likewise concerned about giving birth in the country where there are so few to help her should she need aid. At least, that is how it should read to anyone who intercepts the message, an epistle in my aunt’s exaggerated style. To my parents I hope the true meaning is easily deciphered. And then I get to Aunt Bertram's aim of stating that the family expects me to marry soon and that Susan will be needed at Mansfield Park to fill my place as Lady Bertram's companion.

Lady Bertram asks me to read it aloud and I do, omitting the section about Mrs. Grant; I do not wish her to know.

"Be sure to leave room at the bottom for Sir Thomas to write to Brother Price the arrangements for Susan."

I feel a part of me sink at the realization. "Will he have time for it today?" I ask, secretly hoping against it. My uncle is not his true self today, and I do not want to arouse suspicions.

She is certain. In fact, she tells me to take the letter to him immediately so that he can get it in the post without delay.

"I shall," I say. "Just let me copy it more neatly."

I completely remove the lines about Mrs. Grant on a fresh sheet of paper, then bring the letter to my uncle in his office. He reads through and asks me why I am not more flowing in my praise for Mr. Crawford. Honestly, I cannot imagine what in the letter counts as laudatory.

No mind. My uncle pens a coda full of commendations, then writes that he would have Susan to arrive within the next fortnight. He includes some money to pay for the expense and seals the letter.

And thus ends my hope of sending a coded message to my family in fulfillment of my promise to Mr. Crawford. There must be some way to contact them privately, but how? I must wait until my uncle is freed before I make another attempt.

The old cat takes the news exactly as I expect: poorly. She looks daggers at me while Aunt Bertram repeats her morning soliloquy. This second time through, however, I notice it is less to do with Mr. Crawford and myself as it is about my aunt and Sir Thomas some decades ago.

Regardless of the subject, by the time that is done, the old cat has more than enough cause to criticize me. I have been too forward with Mr. Crawford. The only reason I pursued him is to thwart Shun. I am a tease to win his affections if I have not gratefully accepted him; it would be absolutely fitting if he made me miserable within a twelve-month. It is completely shameful to witness me play with the affections of both Henry Crawford and Charlie Andover like this. No one buys my coy act. And to cap it, the family shall be forced to endure another Price at Mansfield Park.

I say nothing in response to her thinly veiled insinuations and, what is worse, neither does Aunt Bertram.

Tea passes miserably. I cannot imagine what tomorrow will be like, when the Andovers join us.

Then, inspiration strikes and I realize how I can send a letter to my family without Uncle Bertram finding out. I step over to the writing desk with the stated mission of writing a letter to Mary Crawford at her brother's suggestion. Aunt Bertram agrees wholeheartedly, imagining this act implies I welcome the courtship.

Instead of addressing myself to a demon, however, I write my parents. I am far more open in this letter than is usual, both to convince them of my earnestness and simply because I can. I even sign it as "Priceless." I plan to give the scrap to Mrs. Grant when she comes tonight so that it can be sent from the parsonage.

Perhaps I am showing needless precaution but even though my uncle will be returned to his normal self tomorrow, it will seem strange for me to send a second letter to my family so soon after the first. No, the caution is necessary.

I slip the paper into my pocket and try to be unobtrusive. Still, I must endure more caustic reminders from the old cat, sprinkled among her usual criticisms of her neighbors, until it is time to dress.

I am especially quick today, and sneak into the hall leading to my uncle's study. Besides our horrid conversation earlier, he has kept out of sight and I am growing worried of what he may be up to. Unfortunately, I can discover nothing before Baddeley sees me and shoos me away.

Mrs. Grant and her brother arrive punctually. We have a scant few minutes of hurried, whispered conversation in which I hand over the letter with its Portsmouth direction. Mrs. Grant is needlessly worried that I am smuggling dangerous correspondence through her, but I must trust to Mr. Crawford to explain the things I cannot, for the old cat strolls in like she owns the place, putting an end to privacy and, indeed, the possibility of pleasure.

ManGo, Ch14

NN SOctober 08, 2015 11:24AM

Re: ManGo, Ch14

Shannon KOctober 10, 2015 08:21AM

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Lucy J.October 09, 2015 03:38AM

Re: ManGo, Ch14

junewilliams7October 08, 2015 09:05PM

Re: ManGo, Ch14

JoyOctober 08, 2015 08:34PM

Re: ManGo, Ch14

Maria VOctober 08, 2015 03:50PM


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