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Crawford Chapter 5

June 23, 2022 04:14PM
Good morning everyone, here's the next one. The drawing room scene was a beast to write, so I hope it does its job well enough. The central concept behind it: tightening the screws.



Chapter 5

Fanny rode out as soon as breakfast was over. Her gentle mare wandered the lanes and fields around Mansfield while she enjoyed the fresh country air and beautiful scenes. She had not been out long when Mr. Crawford came trotting on his own horse. She remembered the gelding; there had been a servant riding it the whole way from Portsmouth.

“Miss Price!” He looked genuinely delighted. “I must admit I hoped I might see you this morning. I rode this way for that very reason.” Reluctantly she smiled, and he looked even more pleased. “Will you permit me to accompany you? I am perfectly willing to talk or not talk as you desire.” After a few seconds she gave a very slight nod, and he fell in beside her, pulling his horse back to match the leisurely pace of her own. The old groom who always accompanied her trailed behind.

For some time they simply rode through the park, saying little except to praise the scenery, and once, from Mr. Crawford—“Your eyes look just the colour of the sky this morning, Miss Price.” As they were wending their way back towards the stables, though, he nodded at an expanse of planted trees and asked if she knew what kind they were. Fanny named them as a variety of apricot. “Do you mind if we take a short detour that way? I haven’t ever ridden through the orchard.”

She could not refuse, and they soon were riding through the orderly rows. Mr. Crawford wanted to know if she had ever played here as a child, and she admitted she had, though there had been a time she had been afraid to. He coaxed her to tell him the story, and eventually she did. It was a simple little story, about how when she was ten and not long at Mansfield, she had come out here with Julia and Maria and their governess. The older girls had gotten Fanny to play hide-and-go-seek with them, but when they were called in for tea they simply went off and left her, and Miss Lee, who had never had much patience for Fanny, waited only a few minutes before following. That left little Fanny waiting in the trees for a seeker who never came, becoming increasingly frightened and lost, until, inevitably, she was rescued by Edmund, who upon meeting his sisters and hearing the story, set off directly to find her.

“That is exactly what I would have expected,” Henry said, “knowing the characters of all involved.” He was quiet for a moment. “I wish I could be the one to rescue you. I wish I could find you in some trouble and take you out of it, and have you look at me as your champion, as your saviour and dearest companion.”

Fanny, discomposed by this picture of her feelings for Edmund, said, “Oh—oh, no! You must not say that, Mr. Crawford.”

“Why not? It is the truth. I would do anything to earn your love.”

Justice forced Fanny to admit, at least to herself, that Mr. Crawford had, in fact, rescued her from her situation in Portsmouth, and delivered her to Mansfield—a much greater good than simply finding her in an orchard. She might even have felt obliged to acknowledge some part of that to him, had he not used the word love. But since he did, there was not much of anything she could say that would not appear like encouragement.

They arrived at the stables shortly, and Crawford helped her down from her horse, then walked her to the house. She had not the heart to pull her hand away when he took it. “I hope you are not afraid to play among the apricot trees any more, Miss Price,” he said. His look made her blush and turn away.

Going inside, she ran upstairs, changed into a morning dress, and went down to greet her aunts.

“There you are, Fanny!” cried Mrs. Norris. “What took you so long? I have been waiting for you these twenty minutes at least, and poor Lady Bertram cannot continue knotting her fringe until you untangle her strands for her. You have been sitting alone upstairs, by your fire, haven’t you?”

Fanny attempted to deny it.

“Selfish girl! Mr. Crawford went all the way to Portsmouth to bring you back here so that you could be of use to your aunt, and there you go, sitting upstairs by yourself instead. That is what comes of letting you have a fire. Never mind that I left my shawl at home and was hoping you would fetch it for me. My needs ought not to be considered, it is only Lady Bertram’s that I speak of—since I cannot expect you to think of her.”

“I am glad you are here now,” said Lady Bertram, ignoring her sister’s complaints and speaking only out of her own desire. “You have only just come back, Fanny, and I cannot do without you again, especially since Sir Thomas has gone to London.”

“Gone to London?” asked Fanny in surprise.

“Yes, he came in while you were out and told me of it.” She went back to knotting her fringe, which Fanny had now untangled.

“Did he tell you why he was going, aunt?”

“Oh yes, but I cannot remember what he said.” She went on knotting, and Fanny, after a mystified moment, returned to her work. Sir Thomas must have had some business affairs to see to, she decided. If it was important, she surely would have heard of it.

The morning continued peacefully enough. Mrs. Norris continued to pester Fanny about fetching her shawl, but received unexpected opposition from Lady Bertram, who said she was sure her sister was welcome to borrow a shawl, but she thought Fanny should stay here, and not go out.

Before long, the Crawfords made their entrance. Miss Crawford looked very glowing. Fanny felt her heart failing her for a little as she gazed upon her radiance, and the significant smiles she kept sending her way filled her with dread. Something has happened, she thought. Edmund has seen her.

Under cover of her brother’s easy conversation, Mary moved closer to Fanny. “Have you seen your cousin today?” she whispered.

“No; he is busy with Tom, I think.”

“Always busy with Tom! I hope he will not be too busy. I have some claim now, you know. I have a right to as much attention as any brother, no matter how sick.” She waited expectantly for Fanny to ask, or guess her meaning, but Fanny could not bring herself to do it. Her stomach was churning, and only the years of practice she had with hiding her feelings, from Sir Thomas, from Mary, and from Edmund himself, enabled her to retain her composure.

Glancing up, she caught Henry’s eye. He also was looking at her, smiling encouragingly, nodding towards Mary. “You look sly, Fanny, but I know you understand me,” said Mary. “And I know you will understand me when I say that I hope perhaps…” she lowered her voice further, “I will receive Mrs. Crawford here some day?” Fanny’s eyes flew to hers. Mary laughed to see her shock. “You will not mind me, I know. I am too happy to speak wisely just now. You will not mind the feelings of a bride, the ambitions of a wife for her husband.”

“Why must you be so disagreeable, Fanny?” scolded Aunt Norris. “Stop monopolising Miss Crawford!”

“Look who I have brought!” exclaimed Edmund’s voice, with forced cheer, from the doorway. Everyone looked up to see him supporting Tom against his shoulder. The older Bertram looked thin and haggard, but better than when Fanny saw him yesterday. There was a little colour in his cheeks, his eyes overly bright. His valet stood at his other elbow.

Tom summoned a faint smile. “Hope you will forgive my appearance,” he murmured.

Mr. Crawford jumped up to assist Edmund, and there was a general bustle in getting him situated on the sofa opposite Lady Bertram. He batted away hands that reached for the cushions, and would allow no one but Edmund to arrange him. He did not want to lie down—he had been lying down for weeks—he would sit like a man. He was panting by the time Edmund drew back, and Mrs. Norris’s voice rose over the room, clucking and advising, complaining that her receipt for a nourishing broth had been ignored by the cook, and insisting that if only Fanny would fetch the willow sticks in her still room, she, Mrs. Norris, would instruct Peterson on how to prepare a tonic that would fix dear Tom up in no time.

The eyes of all the young people met over Tom’s head. There was a moment’s hesitation: who would throw themselves unto the breach? In a moment of courage that even Fanny could appreciate, Henry Crawford stepped forward with a question about the vegetable garden at the parsonage. Mrs. Norris, bridling with pleasure, let him draw her aside.

The others breathed easier. Edmund cast Crawford a troubled look, and then Mary a tender one before turning back to his brother, speaking to him in a soothing voice. Fanny, standing next to Mary, was perfectly positioned to not only witness that look, but also the bright one in Mary’s eyes as she examined Tom Bertram. He looked frail. Though somewhat stronger to Fanny’s eyes, he undoubtedly looked very frail, and all of Fanny’s indignation rose at what she fancied was the satisfaction in Mary’s gaze. Unable to bear it, she retreated to her Aunt Bertram’s side, the one safe place in the room for her.

After a moment’s pause, Mary sat near to Edmund and Tom, and spoke gently to the invalid. Edmund’s eyes thanked her for this, and he encouraged the conversation with a word here and there. Tom was not up to speaking much, but he seemed to enjoy Mary’s light account of a party she had been to in town. She stopped talking when his eyes began to flutter shut. In another few moments, he fell into a doze. Edmund rose and pulled Mary to the side.

“Your conversation did him good, I think.”

“Poor Tom! He looks very ill.”

“He is, as you know. The doctor thought a change might help lift his spirits, which can only assist recovery, but I am worried that the walk down was too much.”

Mary laid a caressing hand on his arm. “You are a very dedicated brother, Edmund.”

His smile turned doting. “You would do no less, I know.”

“You know, I do not know if I could. I adore Henry, of course. I consider him quite out of the common way for brothers, and I would do anything for him, but to be confined to a sick room for weeks, to endure irritability and tedium as you do, and all for—”

Edmund’s attention had suddenly veered from her. “No!” he said loudly. Everyone looked at him.

“Bertram?” asked Henry with surprise. He had just volunteered to accompany Fanny down to Mrs. Norris’s house to fetch the willow sticks.

“I will ask a servant to fetch the willow for you, if you really feel you must have it, Aunt,” said Edmund, clearing his throat. “John footman can be trusted, surely, and he would be glad of the walk. Fanny must stay here. My mother cannot spare her.”

“Oh yes,” agreed Lady Bertram instantly. “I cannot spare her.” Mrs. Norris looked angry, but said nothing.

Edmund turned back to Mary, his colour a little high. “My cousin is not strong enough to be walking in the middle of the day,” he said in explanation.

She chuckled. “You are as protective an older brother as any girl could wish for! But Henry would not let her get overtired. He will take perfect care of her.”

He was silent for a moment. “I think you should go to your sister in Bath.”

“What?”

“I have been thinking of our conversation this morning—well, you must know which parts I cannot help but think of.” His colour rose, and Mary’s in return. Their eyes conducted a short interlude before he spoke again. “I do not mean that conversation. But the one after, concerning what you should do next. I think you should go to Mrs. Grant, and stay with her.”

“Perhaps I shall, but I have other friends I must consult with as well. Lady Stornaway has several parties she quite counts on me to attend with her, and she is too old a friend and has shown me too much hospitality for me to desert her now, you know.”

Edmund pressed his lips together unhappily. “Mary,” he whispered. “You do not seem to understand how much harm may be, perhaps already has been done by—”

“Upon my word, Edmund.” She stepped back. “Is this what I am to expect from you? Not engaged even a day, and you already presume to order my every movement?”

“No, of course not! But there are circumstances—I am persuaded you would agree with me if you knew౼Crawford!” Again his attention had shifted.

Crawford, who had just sat himself next to Fanny, looked up. “I am at your service, Edmund,” he said after a moment, rose, and joined them. He looked expectantly at the pair. Edmund cleared his throat.

Mary rolled her eyes. “We are disputing about where I should go after here, though I do not know why it should be any of your concern.”

Crawford shook his head. “A lover’s tiff so soon? For shame, Bertram, for shame.” He looked back towards Fanny.

“I hope Mary knows that I should never wish to dispute with her, over anything,” said Edmund at last. “I hope we will always agree on everything of importance.”

“Indeed, I hope we will,” replied Mary, her look softening. “You have only to add to that attitude a willingness to take me to London twice a year and Bath once, and you shall be the perfect husband.”

He sighed. “Mary…”


“I am willing to negotiate. If you press me very hard, I may settle for London once a year and Bath twice, though as Bath is the longer journey, I am not sure that either of us shall be getting what we want from it.”

He laughed, and ran a tired hand over his face.

“As charming a couple as you two make—accept my congratulations, Edmund, I am delighted to call you brother—I must agree with Mary, that this is no concern of mine. I have my own wife to get.” Henry started to turn away, but Edmund spoke up again hurriedly.

“Actually, Mary, would you speak with Fanny?” He pressed her hand. “I have had no chance to tell her yet. Will you do it, and stay with her? Do not leave her alone, please.” Mary looked puzzled by this request, but after looking at his face a moment, she agreed, and went to go sit by Fanny, joining the conversation with Lady Bertram.

Crawford was also frowning. “Is something wrong?”

Edmund opened his mouth, closed it, crossed his arms, and stared at the floor.

“Is it Mary? I know she can be a bit forceful in desiring her own way sometimes, but I do not think you will find her unreasonable.”

“It’s not Mary.” Edmund drew a deep, steadying breath, and raised his eyes. They met Henry Crawford’s dark ones, and held. Crawford drew back a little, an uncertain look crossing his face.

In the sudden quiet, Lady Bertram’s calm voice filled the room. “... as Sir Thomas has gone to London.”

Henry looked around quickly.

Mary’s eyes darted in their direction. “London, your ladyship? Why should Sir Thomas go to London?”

“I do not know. It was very sudden. I do not recall that he had ever mentioned going before this morning. Edmund, do you recall Sir Thomas saying he would go to London?”

“No, madam,” said Edmund. “As you say, sudden, urgent business required him.”

Henry’s eyes met Mary’s for a moment, then moved quickly to Edmund, and from Edmund to Fanny, and back to Edmund. He swallowed, and it seemed to Edmund that his face had lost colour. “Bertram…”

At that moment, Tom began to stir on his sofa. Edmund moved away from Crawford, muttering something. Crawford looked to his sister for help, but she shrugged helplessly. Fanny, whose eyes had been bent on her stitchery during the earlier exchange, caught this last shared glance between the siblings, and wondered at it.

“You have said nothing about my news, Fanny,” murmured Mary next to her. “Will you not congratulate me?”

“Congratulations,” she replied after a moment. “I hope you will both be very happy.”

“Very happy is exactly what I intend to be. We will all be extremely happy too, when I can call you sister as well as cousin,” she nodded, and looked pointedly at her brother. “You will never escape him now, you know, not when Edmund and I both wish it too. You can never hold out against all of us together.” She pressed Fanny’s hand and smiled at her.

Fanny could not speak.

Mary watched as Edmund encouraged his brother to drink a glass of wine. “You must have seen your eldest cousin since you arrived. Does he seem improved or worse to you?”

She tried to rally herself, tried for calmness, made herself reply. “Improved, a little.”

“Edmund is such a very devoted nurse, to be sure.” Her eyes moved to her brother. “Now what can you tell me about this visit to London? I hope it is nothing very bad.”

“I hope so as well. My aunt only told it of me earlier, but I suppose it must be some matter of business.”

Mary smiled. “Very likely. ”

On the sofa, Tom was looking a little more alert. “Crawford,” he said, focusing on the other man, who came closer. His voice was weak, but clear enough. “Haven’t seen you since the Frasers’ party.”

Crawford smiled politely. “How are you feeling?”

He shook his head. “All knocked up.”

“I can see that. Bad luck about that fall.”

“Stupid.” He shifted restlessly. “You’re here for Fanny, I suppose.”

“Yes.” Henry looked at Fanny, who looked down. “Miss Price knows I am here for her.”

A faint smile curled Tom’s lips. “Bet my sisters didn’t like that.”

A heavy silence greeted this statement. The only ones who didn’t look uncomfortable were Lady Bertram, who was nodding off as they spoke, and Mrs. Norris, who was busy instructing Peterson on the best way to prepare a willow bark tisane.

Henry broke the silence at last. “It can be none of my concern what they think,” he said. He turned to Mary. “I will take my leave now, if you don’t mind. I am sure you will wish to visit longer. Edmund, if you would do me the favour of speaking to me later, I would be grateful. Miss Price౼” He hesitated. “You will remember what I told you when we first arrived, will you not?”

Fanny blushed and did not reply. In another moment, Henry was gone. The others looked at each uneasily.

Tom turned his gaze back on his cousin. “‘Pologies, Fanny. Shouldn’t have said that.”

She shook her head and murmured something indistinguishable into her sewing. Edmund looked unusually grim. Mary forced a laugh. “Well this is a great deal of concern over nothing! There were a great many more women than that who wept and wailed at the news of Henry’s attachment, I assure you. Why, you would not believe the number of questions I had to answer from Flora Stornaway alone, and poor Margaret Fraser nearly burst into tears when I told her. Fanny’s triumph is very great—I have told her so, Edmund, many times, though she does not seem to know how to feel it as a woman ought. As for Mrs. Rushworth and Miss Bertram, well, there is no cause for jealousy at all. Henry has never cared for them, and never could.” She took Fanny’s hand and squeezed it affectionately. “He loves only you.”

Fanny was looking at Edmund. He looked unhappy, far more unhappy than he should have been on the very day that Mary Crawford accepted his hand. “You know I have never desired Mr. Crawford’s love,” she said quietly.

Suddenly, Tom was seized with a coughing fit. Edmund and his valet rushed to assist him. Lady Bertram awoke and cried out in distress; Fanny rushed to assist her. Mrs. Norris began flitting about the room, exclaiming, but having nothing of use to say, and Mary drew back a little.

By the time first Tom and then Lady Bertram were tranquillised, Mrs. Norris had decided to go home, to everyone’s relief. As Edmund and Peterson and another footman all together helped Tom up the stairs, Mary stood with her arm around Fanny. “It is dreadful, isn’t it? It is one thing to hear of it, but to see it… I remember when we were doing the play, how full of life and energy he was. Did I ever tell you I thought Tom would likely do for me, when I first came? He seemed everything a young man ought to be… but then, when he went away, I realised I cared nothing for him. It was only Edmund I thought of. And now here I am, thinking still only of Edmund, but I must admit it is a pity to see Tom like this. I most sincerely hope his sufferings will not last long.”

“So do I,” said Fanny. “I hope he recovers.”

Mary smiled sadly. “But would you, if you were in my place?” She looked at her face. “Yes, I believe you would. But we cannot all have your goodness, Fanny. It is a dreadful thing to be selfish, but I cannot help it.” She hugged her. “And that is why you will forgive me, just like Edmund does. You will forgive me and Henry both and love us anyway. Henry needs you, Fanny. You will settle him. You will fix him, and he will be happy forever with you, if you will let him. Edmund wants it too, you know. You must not let all our happiness be ruined over little matters of conscience that never did anyone any good anyway.” She whispered in her ear. “Come and be happy with us, Fanny.”

Fanny, who had spent the last hour trying very hard not to cry, could not prevent it now. The disgust she felt over Mary’s mercenary ways—the true pity for Tom—the discomfort at Henry’s attentions—and most of all the heartbreak of knowing Edmund irrevocably and forever lost to her, were more than her composure could bear. The affectionate embrace of this woman, her kindest friend and bitterest enemy, broke past the thin veil of her reserve, and Fanny wept in Mary’s arms while her friend held her close and smiled, thinking she understood the meaning of her tears. Fanny’s only comfort could be that Mary never imagined the tears were not for Henry, but for Edmund.
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Crawford Chapter 5

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Re: Crawford Chapter 5

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