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Crawford Chapter 6

June 26, 2022 09:02PM
Hello everyone! Here's the next chapter. You may or may not enjoy it. ;-)


Chapter 6


Edmund had also been having a hard time of it. He hardly knew what to feel, or how to think. Every time he looked at Henry, he could only think of Maria, could only imagine his sister denouncing her marriage and proclaiming the existence of a lover. Mary’s jests about her brother’s conquests, which he had heard before, suddenly took on sinister new meaning. Tom’s words, Henry’s consciousness, everything made him doubt, made him regard with the gravest suspicion a man whom he had until this morning considered the best of friends.

Edmund’s temper was not suspicious by nature. Honest and unpretending himself, sincere in his principles and beliefs, he expected to see the same in others. It gave him no pleasure to think ill of anyone, let alone someone he called a friend—a man now to be his brother! His affection for Crawford, his long-felt trust of him, warred with the new information and the terrifying possibilities it raised. Maria, seduced and possibly ruined. Fanny, sweet, innocent Fanny, the object of that same seducer. And Mary—Mary, the only woman he could ever love, the woman he had just pledged his heart and his life to—what would become of her, of them, if this evil thing proved to be true? It would divide them forever. Edmund could hardly think of it.

His first inclination was to speak to Fanny about it, to get her comfort and her counsel, and to warn her not to be alone with Crawford. But Sir Thomas had not given him permission to speak of it to anyone, not yet. And there still was a chance it wasn’t true. There was a chance that Crawford was innocent. If he was, then slandering him could cause nearly as much damage as his guilt would have. It would prejudice Fanny against him, it would damage the friendship between them, and it would cause irreparable harm to Edmund’s fragile new engagement. Until he heard from Sir Thomas, he could say nothing—but how to say nothing, and still remain honest? How to be silent and protect Fanny, how to act like a friend while still suspecting him? Edmund was no actor, and he never had been. He did not know how to pretend to feelings he did not possess.

While he was still struggling over these thoughts, a servant came to tell him that Mr. Crawford had come back and asked to speak with him. Edmund wanted to refuse. To see Crawford alone was the last thing he wanted right now; but, somehow, the excuses would not come. For Mary’s sake, if nothing else, he must see him. He must find out what he had come to say.

He asked that he be shown to the library, and after taking a few minutes to compose himself, went down to meet him. Crawford was pacing the room when he entered, but stopped at once and faced him, his mien both determined and serious.

“Good afternoon,” said Edmund. “What did you want to see me about?”

“I want to know why Sir Thomas went to London.”

Edmund drew back in surprise. “Why do you want to know that?”

“Because I need to know what I am accused of, if I am going to defend myself against it.”

Despite himself, Edmund appreciated the directness of the attack. It was disconcerting, but it also made everything easier. “Have you been accused?”

Crawford sighed. “Come, Bertram, we are friends, aren’t we? You can be honest with me. I know Sir Thomas must have shown you the letter he received. Why else would you suddenly start trying to keep me from Fanny? You’ve always supported my suit before.”

He hesitated, his mind racing. “I have seen the letter.”

“I will do Sir Thomas the justice to believe that he would not have shown it to you without also telling you what explanation I made for it.”

“Yes.”

“Then you see why I must assume that this sudden trip to London concerns me in some way. If it does not, then I would have to consider you to be a most suspicious and unforgiving friend, and that, Edmund, I do not accept. Not on the same day you asked my sister to be your wife.”

Edmund winced. “This is not easy for me either, Crawford. It is a miserable position to be in. But you must see that this is a matter that requires careful investigation. It cannot be ignored, or set aside lightly.”

“You don’t trust me, then. You don’t believe me when I say that I did not behave improperly with your sister.”

“I want to believe you! I want it as much as I have ever wanted anything.”

Crawford relaxed a little, and came forward. “Then believe me.” He approached slowly and laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “You know me, Edmund. You know the affection I bear for you and your family, and especially for your cousin. I would be a fool indeed if I did anything to jeopardise my future with her.”

It was all very convincing, but having once been forced to see his friend in a different light, Edmund was not so easily drawn back. He thought of the cold reception he had seen Maria give Crawford when they met at Mrs. Fraser’s. Something had happened, something that changed that cold reception.

Crawford seemed to see on his face that he was not convinced, and he drew back. “Tell me what else has happened—what else I must answer for.”

Edmund shook his head. “It is not to me that you will have to answer. I am not the master here.”

The other man looked away and cursed. “That is not fair, and you know it! Every man deserves the chance to defend himself against accusation.”

“You have already defended yourself, and if you were telling the truth, I am sure nothing more is required. You are here, in this house, right now, because my father wishes you to be innocent. How much more reason do I have to wish for your innocence!”

“Why won’t you tell me what is happening in London, then?”

“It is not for me to tell. My father will write when he has any news.”

He turned away, running his hand through his hair in agitated fashion. “Does Fanny know?”

“About what?”

“Any of it! Mr. Harding’s letter, the trip to London, whatever that means—does she know about any of it?”

“I have not told her, but my cousin is astute. She will understand more than you think.”

“So you’re telling me that I have no hope. I am ruined. I am to be besmirched by innuendo and angry looks.”

Edmund’s conscience rather smote him on this point. It was a very fair point. “Do you want me to explain it to her?”

“No!” Crawford rounded on him in panic. “Upon no account, no! I will explain it myself, thank you very much, if it must be explained, but all I require now is that you not prejudice her against me by glaring at me and refusing to speak to me.”

Edmund opened his mouth to promise he would try, but hesitated. “My father charged me with protecting her.”

He huffed. “Do you think I would hurt her? The woman I love?” He shook his head. “I revere Fanny Price as the next thing to an angel. I don’t want to hurt her, I want to worship her.”

Well aware how distasteful Fanny would find such terms, Edmund yet could not help being little swayed by his fervency. He had all of an anxious lover’s sympathy. Then he remembered that Maria was threatening to leave her husband for another man, and it was probably Crawford.

“You cannot mean to explain yourself to Mary,” continued Crawford, trying another angle of attack. “You cannot mean to tell her that you suspect me of corrupting your cousin. It is not a very felicitous way of beginning an engagement, is it, to accuse your future brother-in-law of licentiousness?”

This was exactly Edmund’s opinion as well, and the frustration and despair of his position nearly overwhelmed him for a moment. “What would you have me do, Crawford?” he asked finally, resentment in his tone. “If you had been more circumspect, more considerate of everything due to my sister, my cousin and yourself, none of this would have happened. What am I to think? Fanny is the dearest person in the world to me besides Mary, and I have already pressed her to accept your courtship against her own wishes. Now I hear that you have been engaging in a flirtation with my married sister? You have been, at the very least, so often in her company as to cause the rumour of a flirtation to spread about town? That by itself is very bad, even before౼” He shut his lips.

But Crawford seized the opening. “Before what? What happened? Has Mrs. Rushworth said something, claimed something? Has Mr. Rushworth alleged new slights against him?”

“Does he have cause?”

“Not from me.” He crossed his arms. “I will tell you what I told Sir Thomas. I was incautious, I was foolish. I admit that. But I intended no harm, and believe that ultimately, I did none. And perhaps you are right—perhaps that folly is enough to prove me unworthy of Fanny. Perhaps I should take myself off and disturb her no more. But I cannot give up. I cannot relinquish the happiness I wish to have, I hope to have, in her. I will engage not to see Mrs. Rushworth again, I will avoid London itself like the plague, but until Sir Thomas himself forbids me to set foot on Mansfield property again, I must and will attempt to fix my interest with Fanny in any way I can.”

The two men stared at each other. Edmund hardly knew what to say. He was trapped, and Crawford knew it. There could be nothing more said until Sir Thomas wrote with his findings. He prayed he would discover the truth in London, whatever it was. How long ago yesterday seemed! How foolishly he had believed that proposing to Mary would end all uncertainty!

Crawford bowed. “If you will excuse me, brother.” He headed for the door. Edmund trailed uncertainly in his wake.

They came out in the corridor as female voices echoed from the other end. In another moment, Fanny and Mary came into sight, walking together. Edmund’s eyes focused on Mary immediately, slim, vivacious and lovely. His chest ached at the sight of her.

“There are just the men we need!” cried Mary, smiling. “Henry, you ought to take Fanny out to the garden, to get some sun on her cheeks. She needs a break from the house, I think. And as for you, sir,” she drew near to Edmund and looped her arm through his, “I am quite cross with you. Why, it has been more than half a day since you proposed to me, and you haven’t told me since how pretty I am, or how much you like my eyes, or how desperately you miss me every hour of the day. I am quite disappointed.”

Her charm never failed to allure him: he felt himself sinking already into those eyes, but not even Mary could completely distract him from watching as Crawford addressed himself to Fanny. She stood with eyes lowered, and only glanced once at Edmund and Mary before allowing herself to be led away. He wanted to go after them, to assure himself that she was comfortable, to remind Crawford of his obligations, but it was too late now, and Mary’s smile and her arm through his, and the soft touch of her hand, drawing him back into the library, were more than he could resist.

~%~


Henry pressed Fanny’s hand as he led her out of the house, drawing steadiness from her quiet presence at his side. The interview with Bertram had been awful, and he felt like he was selling another piece of his soul every time he lied to someone he cared about. He still didn’t know what was happening in London. That Bertram would not tell him was a bad sign, he thought—a very bad sign.

Next to him, Fanny sighed quietly. “What is that, my darling?” he asked, without thinking. “Is there something wrong?” She shook her head without looking up. He looked down on her neat and pretty curls. “Are you feeling better, since coming back to Mansfield? Are you happier?”

“Oh—oh, yes. I am very grateful—it was most kind౼”

“That was not what I meant and you know it. Have you been happy since arriving at Mansfield? That is what I mean, and nothing else.”

“I am very happy I am back at Mansfield,” she said, more clearly.

“That is not exactly the same thing either, but it is all you will tell me, I suppose.” He angled his head, trying to see her face. All at once, an image of Maria Rushworth rose up in front of him, and he looked away, fighting his guilt. It was a mistake, he thought. It was all a mistake from beginning to end, and it would not be repeated. He would never give Fanny a cause for anxiety or unease again. Speaking of which

He steered her toward a shadowed arbour. Fanny, seeing his destination, resisted. She pulled her hand from his arm. “Pray, Mr. Crawford, do not౼”

“It is too hot for you to be in the sun for long, and I want to talk to you.” Seeing her begin to look distressed, he suppressed a sigh. As perfect as he must think her, in all her many virtues, he could wish she would be a little less resistant to him. He had never worked so hard in his life for a woman’s love. It was not that he did not believe her love to be worth the effort. He believed it worth any effort—in fact, he had been looking forward to it until the disaster at Twickenham. But he was in no mood at present for opposition. “Please. I will not say anything you do not like, but you must allow me to speak to you, at least.”

After a few more entreaties she yielded, and sat down on the bench in the bower, her hands folded demurely. Crawford sat down on the other end, angling himself toward her so that he could see her face. She had been pale and thin already when they picked her up from Portsmouth, but even so, he could not think she looked well. The shadows under her eyes were deeper than usual and … “You’ve been crying,” he said with conviction, when she raised her gaze. The immediate withdrawal of that gaze confirmed his suspicions. “No, no, don’t run from me,” he said, as she looked like she wished to get up. “I will not ask more if you do not wish it, but I hope you know that everything that concerns you is of the greatest possible interest to me. If you are distressed, I wish you would tell me.” His mind moved quickly, running through possibilities. It was difficult to know what might have caused her tears. She had never opened her heart to him.

“Miss Price,” he began, “there is a delicate matter that I feel must be spoken of between us. I would never presume to raise such a subject with you, except that it has been mentioned by others already, and I do not wish for there to be any misunderstanding.”

She blushed vividly. “Mr. Crawford, please, this cannot be necessary.”

“It is necessary. It is entirely necessary that you know and understand that nothing of any significance ever took place between your two cousins and myself.” She began to turn away again, but he caught her hand. “If there is any jealousy on their part, it is not of my doing. I never gave either of them any reason to suppose us more than friends, and they are certainly nothing to me now.” She pressed her lips together. “You have heard, I suppose,” he hurried on, determined to get to the worst of it, “that I have been speaking to Mrs. Rushworth in town, but I know your good sense would have seen that there is nothing in that. It is a family acquaintance౼a close family connection, which I hoped would become closer still. I care nothing for her friendship, but I could not fail to acknowledge the claim which our common association last summer gave to both her and her husband. I would not insult your family by ignoring her. I saw Mr. Rushworth and Miss Bertram as well, as well as Tom, and Edmund and Mary. We all of us were meeting frequently. If anyone should claim there is more to it than that, well, they do not know me, and they do not understand how impossible it is that I should wish to attach myself to any woman other than yourself. Your good opinion must always come first with me—your sweetness, your delicacy and gentleness, the clarity of your lovely mind—they have spoiled me for any other woman. What man, after loving a Fanny Price, could desire the good opinion of a Maria Rushworth? It is not to be thought of! I have thought only of you, my sweetest Fanny౼”

Fanny, who had pulled her hand away twice during this speech, stood up and turned away. Crawford, who could not bear to have her leave without her assurances, pursued her, repeating again the professions he had made before, in disregard of all promises to the contrary. He was running out of time—he would lose her if he did not do something—such considerations pressed against him, made him heedless. “You must not go away without promising me, without telling me that you understand, that you will not let anyone make you doubt my love. You will not be, cannot be so cruel. It is not in your nature. You will show me mercy—Say it now, dearest. Say, ‘Henry, I believe you.’”

“Mr. Crawford.” The look of anger, which he had only seen on her features perhaps twice before, crossed them now. He ceased talking to listen. “I am not so simple as you think me, or so blind. I do not need to hear from others how you behaved in the past, for I saw it myself, and I am astonished that you should dare to speak to me about it. As for Mrs. Rushworth, I only know what your sister has communicated, and I am sure that it is none of my concern, but your conscience should tell you what is right to show to a married woman. Now, please,” she averted her eyes again. “I wish to return to the house.” She walked away, her shoulders set with gentle dignity. Crawford, stunned by the rebuke, watched her go and tried with futile despair to determine how to stop her.

“Miss Price,” he finally called, and ran to catch up with her. She did not look around. “You cannot mean to leave me like that. If I have done wrong, you can teach me about it, surely. You can show me how to be better. I would sit under your tutelage for years, I would learn anything you wish me to know. I will put myself in your hands entirely. I will be a better improvement project than Sotherton.” He threw up his hands as she sent him a reproachful look. “That was not the best example, but the point stands. Can you really reconcile it with your conscience to give up such an opportunity? To remake a man—an indifferent sort of a man, not bad really, but not very good either, but who loves you—to take this man and turn him into something more? To make him really good? Do you not think that would be a worthy undertaking, for a woman such as yourself?”

“I would never dare assume such responsibility.”

“You would leave me without a guide, then? Without a better partner, or helper?”

“There is a Helper who may teach you everything, if you would seek Him. God is able to do all things, Mr. Crawford, but I am just a woman.” So saying, she went inside, and not all of Henry’s most sanguine feelings could encourage him to follow her further. He leaned against the wall, filled with self-loathing, and wishing more than ever that he could go back to that day on the ramparts at Portsmouth.

~%~


In the library, Edmund drew back from an embrace that would soon make him forget himself completely. Mary was warm in his arms—more warm, more willing, and more sweet than he had even dreamed. He felt faintly that they really ought to be married to be doing this—though really, it was nothing wrong, it was just the overwhelming sensations created, the strength of the intimate feelings.

Mary laid her head against his shoulder and sighed. “Yes, you shall make an excellent husband.”

He could not answer her, just held her close, and tried to reorder his own mind. It was all too easy to forget, here, the dire situation they were in. The eminence of disgrace—the horror of Crawford’s possible behaviour—the agony of losing Mary now, even, seemed like distant threats, when he had her in his arms. But he could not forget them, not entirely. They would not be forgotten.

“I would go to Bath if you would go with me.”

“I wish I could, but you know that is impossible.”

“How impossible? I do not see any impossibility.”

“I cannot leave Tom right now, and if I could, my parish demands my attention. It has been neglected too long.”

She moved restlessly against him. “Tom! It is always Tom! Why does he deserve your attention, and I do not?”

He pressed his lips to her hair. “You do not mean that, I know you do not. In truth, I am sorry to have proposed under such dismal conditions. You deserve better than this. I have not even been able to announce our engagement to my family properly, since my father left so suddenly. It has all of it been done very poorly, and I am sorry.”

“Yes…” Her hand smoothed his lapel. “Why did your father leave so suddenly? It is very mysterious, and no one seems to know.”

He hesitated. “I am not at liberty to speak of it yet.”

“No?” Her dark eyes peered up at him. “Not even to me?” She pouted a little, and he looked at her lips, already red from his kisses. “And here I thought you loved me!”

“You know I love you,” he said fervently. “I could never even imagine any other woman as my wife.”

“Well, I must say you are doing a poor job of showing it. A husband who does not confide in his wife! What sort of marriage are you offering me, sir?” She looked at him beneath her lashes, her mouth puckering provocatively. He bent to kiss her again, but she placed her fingers over his mouth. “Edmund,” she whispered, “why did your father go to London?”

He drew back, a twist of unease moving through him. “Why do you care so much?”

“Why should I not care about something that concerns my future family?” She began to look offended now, but her eyes would not meet his. “You have made such a deal over it, I thought it must be important, that is all. I do not like to think that you would be keeping things from me, especially so soon after our engagement.” She pulled out of his arms, and he felt the rush of cool air in her wake. She fussed with her gown and moved around the room. “If one of my friends in town had told me their husband refused to discuss business concerns with them, why I would have thought that quite the established mode, but you have been talking to me so long about trust and openness, and marriages of mutual affection, that I thought you were offering me something better than that. Something on a higher order of relationship, but now I see it is all a take-in, just like everyone else’s marriages.”

The twist of unease had grown. “If it were a matter of my own business I would disclose it to you fully. Ask me anything about my life or my work, and I will answer. I hope you will ask me, and take as close an interest in the concerns of my parish as I do, but౼”

“Oh, the parish!” She laughed a little bitterly. “It is always the parish, and the old ladies, and the farmers, and now Tom! Everyone is to have their first share of your attention but me. My concerns hold no weight with you, my wishes you are certain not to regard, if there be any other person who wants a prayer, or a sermon, or even to have you hold their hand for an hour. You will not think of me when they call.”

Edmund stared at her. Part of him wanted to answer her, to assure her that her concerns were his first concern as well, but another part of him felt, instinctively, that this was not really about the parish, or even Tom. The parish had always been there, and she had not objected this morning when he talked of his duty to his brother. “Mary…”

She turned around suddenly, and smiled her most bewitching smile, a smile that seemed to invite him to her. “Don’t you want to please me, Edmund?”

He did want to please her. He wanted it very much, and as he walked across the room and took her in his arms again, he vowed he would do everything in his power to do so, that would not require absolutely compromising those most cherished principles he had built his life around.

“Edmund,” she murmured some time later, “you are worried. What are you worried about?”

“Losing you.”

“Why would you lose me?”

He paused for a long moment. “I ought not to be doing this with you.” He removed her arms, with infinite pain, from around his neck.

“Well, whyever not?”

“It is not right.”

“I don’t understand.” She drew back truly offended, as well as confused. “I thought we were engaged.”

He sighed, and turned away from the enticing sight she made. “We are.”

“Then why should you object to a few kisses? It is not as if you do not have honourable intentions towards me! And if you do object to kissing me, you ought to have said so a long time ago, because it is too late to be anything but a hypocrite now.”

He winced. “You are right. I am acting the hypocrite, but oh, Mary! If only things were different! If only this wretched business of my father’s were settled, and settled happily! Then I would not fear anything that might happen.”

“This wretched business you still refuse to tell me about, you mean. You cannot say something like that and not explain it.”

A long silence followed. “I don’t know how to tell you. It is so very bad. If what has happened is what we fear, it would spell disaster for all of us.”

“You are speaking of Henry and Mrs. Rushworth, I expect,” she said matter-of-factly.

He whirled around. “You know?”

“I heard the rumours, certainly. How could I not? But it is nothing to be worried about, Edmund. Henry would not betray Fanny in any meaningful way. It is only his old habit of liking to make women in love with him, which he has not quite got over. It is very bad, but once he and Fanny are married, she will settle him. His flirtatious ways will not survive the date of their engagement, I am sure.”

“You speak so lightly of it? For a man to flirt with a woman, a married woman, while the professed suitor of her cousin?” He stared at her incredulously, a sick feeling in his stomach. “Mary, Maria’s very respectability and reputation are at stake! Her marriage itself might be in danger!”

“Pooh! Rushworth is a jealous fool, but no one cares about flirtations in town. I daresay Henry did not do half as much as rumour says he did, and now he is staying here, it will soon all be forgotten. If it is not, you may be certain that it is not Henry’s fault, but Maria’s, and her husband’s.”

He could not speak. Mary seemed to grow uncomfortable under his look, and assumed a more serious air. “I know it must be very unpleasant to Sir Thomas, to hear his daughter spoken of in such a way, and it will make things awkward for a little while, but I truly believe that it is nothing that cannot be gotten over with a little discretion and time. If we treat it as nothing, the world will believe it was nothing as well—and truly, my dear Edmund, it was nothing. A little etourderie on Henry’s part, and of course you may all take turns scolding him for it, but his heart is as much Fanny’s as it ever was. As for Mrs. Rushworth, she will simply have to accept that Henry has never been hers.”

Edmund shook his head. “I need to check on Tom,” he muttered. “I am certain to be wanted.” He turned away and hurried to the door, desperate to be away. She stopped him just as he was about to leave, taking his hand in both of hers.

“You will see that I am right, my love.” She looked earnestly into his face, a frown between her eyes. “It is not so bad as you fear. Nothing needs to change.”

Saying he hardly knew what, he pulled his hand away, and left her standing there.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Crawford Chapter 6

Suzanne OJune 26, 2022 09:02PM

Re: Crawford Chapter 6

Shannon KJune 30, 2022 02:53AM

Re: Crawford Chapter 6

Suzanne OJune 30, 2022 04:37AM

Re: Crawford Chapter 6

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Re: Crawford Chapter 6

EvelynJeanJune 28, 2022 05:19AM

Re: Crawford Chapter 6

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Re: Crawford Chapter 6

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Re: Crawford Chapter 6

Suzanne OJune 29, 2022 04:00AM



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