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Crawford, Chapter 7

June 30, 2022 05:06PM
Chapter 7

It had taken Fanny a great deal of time in the East room—a great deal of pacing, and weeping, and prayer, and then laying down on her bed with a cool cloth on her head, before she could feel at all calm or composed again. It had been a dreadful day, shock upon shock to her mind and sensibilities, and she could hardly fathom how it could be possible to carry on with life as usual. To think she had actually wanted to return to Mansfield! She wished she had stayed in Portsmouth, rather than to have experienced the evils of this day.

She had not minded Mr. Crawford joining her on her morning ride, or not much, at least. He had been an agreeable companion until he decided to begin speaking of love again. She wished he would stop. She wished he would see how unpleasant it was to her, and be satisfied with her acceptance of his company. But even that had not disturbed her very far. Mr. Crawford professing love was not, after all, new. What had truly cut up her peace was, of course, the news of Edmund’s engagement. Given, as it had been, publicly, slyly, with insinuation and smiles, it had been all the harder to bear. Edmund had not even told her himself! He had left it all to Mary—Mary, who must now be all things to him, while poor Fanny became less and less.

She had feared this day, expected it, dreaded it, known it was coming, but how bitter it was to have it finally here. And then to hear Mary calmly affirming those sentiments she had written her letter about—coldly admitting that she preferred Tom’s death! It was horrifying to hear, horrifying to know how her corruption must inevitably work on Edmund’s goodness, turning him further and further from the upright man he was to one made in Mary’s image. He would be miserable with her, positively miserable, unless his own morals became like hers. They would escape poverty after all, if Tom did die, but what a price to pay for conjugal peace! The letter she had not shown Edmund could never be shown now. Perhaps she should have given it to him last night—she should have fetched it and made him read it, right there in the candlelight by Tom’s bedside. She might have saved him for ever, if she had—but that chance was gone, gone for ever now. He had committed himself, and Edmund was too honourable to ever draw back once the promise was made.

And then, after the mortification of her tears, and the misery of being comforted by the one who had caused them, she had gone with Mr. Crawford outside, gone to get away from the sight of Mary and Edmund together, her so fond and possessive, and he had subjected her to another scene—a scene of the most distasteful sort. Fanny still shook with anger when she thought of it, his justifications and sophistry, his attempts to convince her that it was all nothing, that he had not dallied with her cousins in the way she herself had seen him do. And his talk of Mrs. Rushworth! If anything was lacking to convince her there had been impropriety there, it was his eagerness to defend himself against it. Everything that had followed only made it worse. He was wicked and corrupt; he was everything she had believed him in the beginning, and whatever his reasons for pretending he loved her, they were more sophistry. He was pretending to himself most of all, perhaps, but she would not be fooled. She would not be convinced he cared for anyone but himself.

When dinner time came, there were only three at the table: Fanny, Edmund and Lady Bertram. No one spoke much, except for Lady Bertram’s occasional rambling remarks. Edmund looked as miserable as Fanny felt, and her heart could not help lifting a little. If he was this miserable on only the first day of engagement, then perhaps there was hope. He had never looked really happy, not at any time she saw him today, and that made no sense that she could tell—he should have been happy at first, even if they quarrelled later—but while Fanny certainly did not desire that Edmund be miserable, she did not want him happy with Mary Crawford either. Misery now might be better than happiness, if it prevented more permanent suffering later.

Edmund excused himself immediately after dinner, and Fanny played cribbage with Lady Bertram until bedtime. It was a soothing activity, peaceful and quiet, and when Lady Bertram told her she ought to go up to bed early, because she looked sadly pulled, it was all she could do to keep from weeping with gratitude at her aunt’s easy affection. She went up, not to drift off peacefully, but to lay awake and pray that God keep her from the sin of despair. It was wicked to forsake hope, but how little hope she could feel then, poor Fanny!—at only eighteen, and the man she loved engaged to another. All was darkness in her view—her life would never be happy again—she could never love another like she did him—William’s love, her uncle’s kindness, and her aunt’s affection were the only things she had to cling to.

~%~


The Crawfords also had a quiet dinner, of plain fare. For once, neither of the siblings had much to say to the other. Both were lost in their own introspections, frowning over the undressed mutton and boiled turnips. The shadows in the mostly empty house pressed around them, the still-covered furniture circling like unformed ghosts.

“We should just go back to London,” said Mary eventually.

He shook his head. “You know I can’t.”

“Why not? At least then you would know what she’s done.”

“What does it matter to me what she’s done?” There was a bit of mustard on his plate. He dipped his knife in it, and dragged it around, in bilious swirls. “I’m done for anyway.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do.” There was half an over-cooked turnip. He cut it into little pieces. “I have more chance of persuading Sir Thomas to marry me than Fanny.”

“Now that is just foolish talk.”

“Is it?” He speared a piece of bread and held it up to study.

“For goodness sake, Henry, would you stop playing with your food, and look at me!”

He put the knife down and looked at her. “Apologies.”

“Now, you got us into this, and I am counting on you to help get us out. If you give up now, that is tantamount to admitting guilt.”

He laughed harshly, and dragged a hand through his hair. “But I am guilty, aren’t I? That’s the whole problem.” He put the hand across the table to her. “But you don’t need to go down with me. You should stay here, and I’ll go away. I’ll try Everingham, like you said. Edmund will protect you; he’ll stand by you.”

Now it was her turn to laugh unpleasantly. “I think you are overestimating the strength of Edmund’s affection for me. He’ll not stand the moral blight of a rake in his family, if he can help it.”

He pressed his lips together. “I’m sorry.”

She looked down at her plate, and no one said anything for another minute or two. “I don’t know what this nonsense is about Fanny, though,” she tried again, with forced lightness. “The girl wept in my arms this afternoon, and I could swear it was over you.”

His eyes lifted. “What?”

“After you and the other men left. I was entreating her to complete everyone’s happiness by accepting you, and she burst into tears. I thought for sure it was over you; young girls in love for the first time often get quite confused with their feelings, and cry over them, poor things.”

He leaned back in his chair. “Why would Fanny cry over me? She knows I am hers; she only needs to look at me, and I’ll have her at the church tomorrow.”

“I told you, a young, inexperienced girl like that can find it very confusing to be in love, especially if she thought for sure that she would never, ever love you. No one likes being wrong. She is probably just struggling to understand the truth for herself.”

He considered this, a spark of hope coming into his countenance. “I thought she had been crying earlier. But I saw her after that, and there was nothing—I made a mull of it, of course. I should never have…. She looked so severe, almost unlike herself. I could swear she hated me then.”

“Fanny Price isn’t capable of hating anybody. It just means you have made her feel strong feelings, and she’s not used to them.”

He looked more hopeful still, then shook his head. “What difference does it make? Any day now there will be another letter, with more news from London. Sir Thomas will try to speak to Maria in that overbearing way he has, and she will probably tell him everything just to spite him. Or to spite me. Or Rushworth. Bertram is already looking at me like I’m a wolf here to gobble his little cousin up. When he finds out the truth—when she finds out the truth…” He shook his head. “I don’t think I can bear to be here for that. I have no hope, Mary.” He picked up the wine decanter, and poured himself another glass. “I have no hope at all.”

Another silence. “Will you go away tomorrow, then?”

“Perhaps. I may go up to the house, try to see Fanny one last time…. If you are right, and she is starting to care for me… “ He groaned. “How can I leave her? But how can I stay?”


Mary sighed, looking across the table at her beloved brother. “All our fears may be for nothing, you know. All Maria has to do is keep her silence, and the rest will blow over. No-one will hold it against you very long.”

“Yesterday, I would have agreed with you. Tonight… tonight… I don’t know. Perhaps you are right. But I don’t think so.” He rose, picked up the decanter and the glass, and took them from the room with him.

~%~


Tom seemed a little better again in the morning. It was one comfort at least, and Edmund felt desperately in need of comfort. He was just settling him down to the weak tea and soft-boiled eggs that Cook felt appropriate for an invalid’s breakfast when there was a soft knock on the door.

Opening it, he found Fanny, looking pale and tired. “Oh! Good morning, cousin,” she said.

“Good morning, Fanny.” Suddenly he felt the urge to embrace her, to soak up her warm, sisterly love and tender sympathy.

“How is Tom today?”

“He seems stronger, I think. He did not cough much at all last night.”

“Thank God! I am so glad!” Her face lit for a moment with her sweet smile. “I was thinking, Edmund, that if my aunt can spare me later, and if you do not think it would be improper, perhaps I could sit with Tom for a while. I can read to him, or play cards. If he would not dislike it, that is. I know I am not an adequate substitute for you, but perhaps he would accept me for a little while, at least, and you could rest. You should not have to be the only one to sit with him all the time.”

“My dear cousin, I am sure that he would be delighted to see your pretty face rather than mine. But you mustn’t make yourself work too hard, either. You are still recovering from Portsmouth, and if you do not mind my saying so, you do not look well today. Did you not sleep last night?”

“Not very well,” she admitted. “But I shall be better directly, I daresay. It would not tire me to read or play cards.”

He noticed her clothing. “Do you not plan to ride this morning?”

She shook her head, looking down.

“Why not? You can’t expect to get better without fresh air and exercise.”

“I do not wish to ride,” she said, but there was that tone in her voice that said she wasn’t telling the whole truth. He frowned at her, then suddenly remembered the morning before, and his concerns about her riding out at the same time as Crawford.

“Fanny, why don’t you want to ride?”

She pressed her lips together.

“That’s no good. You have a reason, and I would like to know what it is. Please tell me. I won’t be angry or try to argue you out of it, I promise.”

Her head dipped a little lower. “I don’t want to meet Mr. Crawford,” she whispered.

“Oh, Fanny.” Guilt and worry almost crushed him. “Did you meet him yesterday?”

She nodded.

“Did he bother you? Impose on you? Harm you in any way?” Now her eyes looked wonderingly back up at him, and Edmund flushed at the surprise in them. “I’ve been a fool, Fanny. I should never have urged you to accept his proposal against your own conscience. It was unpardonable of me—I can see that now. Please tell me if he has imposed on you in any way.”

Again she stared in amazement, and to his horror, tears welled up in her eyes. “What did he do?” Glancing behind him, he pulled her all the way out into the corridor, and shut the door behind them. Gripping her hand firmly, he tried to appear as reassuring as possible, while inwardly he was near to panicking. What kind of fiend had he forced his little cousin to endure? “Please tell me, Fanny, my dearest cousin, what happened? What did Crawford do to you?”

To his unspeakable relief, she shook her head, and searched in her pocket for her handkerchief. “Nothing. He hasn’t done anything, except that he won’t leave me alone, and he will not stop talking of things I dislike, and yesterday he began speaking of Julia and Mrs. Rushworth, and—oh, cousin, I am very much afraid that he must have done—there must have been something—or else he would not feel the need to speak so particularly of her౼”

“Hush.” He placed his hand on her shoulder. “You do not need to say any more.” For what else was there to say? For all of Crawford’s direct attacks and shows of righteous indignation, he was appearing every moment more guilty. His own sister’s words confirmed it. What exactly he was guilty of—how far the indiscretion, the sin had reached, they did not yet know—but that there had been indiscretion and sin, Edmund could no longer doubt.

“I will ask him to leave,” he said after a moment. “I will ask him not to return again until—if—if all is somehow settled and clear. Though I cannot think—I do not think it possible that he will be found completely innocent, Fanny. I have lost my friend. You have lost something more, perhaps, though it seems you always saw him for what he is. Oh, Fanny, there is no end of the evils that threaten us now!”

Fanny’s small hands covered his, and clasped it. Her lips worked, and her eyes, still wet from her tears, studied him anxiously. “Miss Crawford?” she asked softly.

He shook his head and pulled away. “I cannot speak of it. I still have hope—I still must try to do my best by her. I love her, and I am committed now. If only she can be separated from the evil that is her brother, we may have a chance.” He swallowed. “But you need not be troubled any longer. My father wished me to keep him here, and away from London, but he also commanded me to protect you, and clearly that cannot be while he is still here to disturb your peace. I will see if he can be reasoned with. For his sister’s sake, he may be persuaded to go back to his estate, or some other place that is not London. I am sure, from his behaviour, that he does not desire a scandal. Perhaps, if he thinks he still has a chance with you—but that is talking nonsense. I will not sacrifice your comfort any longer. He will be told, and pray God that he accepts it as he should.”

Fanny nodded, seeming too overcome to speak, but her expressive eyes conveying gratitude and sympathy.

“Why don’t you stay up here with Tom? He is in his chair—do not worry. Peterson will stay, and we can call one of the maids to sit with you if you feel you need another chaperone. I will send a note to Aunt Norris and ask her to spend the morning with my mother, if she has not already planned to. When once I have seen him, and he is gone—really gone—then you can come down. But, Fanny?” He paused on the act of turning away. “You will not abandon Mary, will you? You will still be her friend? She will need your friendship more than ever now.”

She nodded. “I will still be her friend,” she promised.

“Thank you.” He forced a fleeting smile, and started down the hall. “Have you had breakfast?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Not yet.”

“I will send up a tray.” He left her to minister to Tom’s moods as she saw fit, and headed down to the breakfast parlour. While still feeling very grim, he was a little cheered by the simple act of reaching a resolution. Knowing that Fanny, at least, would be a little happier, and that Crawford himself would be gone from the halls of Mansfield, brought him some relief. How Mary would react to him sending her brother away, he dared not think. He would face that when it came.

He was fortunate—if such a word could be applied to him in such circumstances. Breakfast was not long over when a footman came to tell him that Mr. Crawford had arrived alone. He was in the office where the estate records were kept, reviewing some numbers in a futile attempt to distract his mind. He asked that Crawford be shown there, because it was as good a room as any for such a conversation.

In a few minutes he arrived, and the two men stared at each other across the top of the desk and its ledger. At last he rose to his feet. “Crawford౼”

“I’m leaving today.”

Surprised, he paused a moment. “Truly?”

His mouth twisted. “Do you think I am so blind I cannot see the way the wind is blowing? You have obviously decided I am guilty already. Not even your engagement to my sister can procure me the benefit of the doubt.”

“I would give you the benefit of every doubt, if it were only my own wishes to consult. But that is not why I am asking you to leave. I’m asking you to leave for Fanny’s sake.”

Crawford swallowed. “I want to see her.”

He shook his head. “I promised her she wouldn’t have to.”

“Are those her wishes speaking, or yours? Did you influence her to think badly of me, to fear meeting me?”

“Of course not. You did that yourself.” Despite everything, a wry smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “She heard the name of Mrs. Rushworth from your lips, not mine.”

He cursed under his breath and paced a couple of steps. “Bertram, you must let me see her. Just… one more time. One more time, for the love of heaven. After that, I will leave. I will go to Everingham and wait until you tell me I can come back again, but you can’t deny me the chance to speak to her, just once more. Think how you would feel it was Mary! I deserve that, don’t I?”

Edmund hesitated, but shook his head again. “I promised her.”

“Then let me write to her. Let me at least leave some pledge of my love for her. She must know that I have not given up—that I will never give up desiring her. That I will come back again when I can.”

Feeling conflicted, Edmund yet agreed to this. It would be up to Fanny whether she wished to read it. Crawford was provided with ink and paper, and took Edmund’s place at the desk, writing quickly. He covered both sides of the sheet, his face drawn and earnest as he wrote. Looking at him, Edmund could almost believe him innocent. There was no doubt in his mind that he did love Fanny—that he wanted very badly to marry her. Seeing this man whom he had called his friend, whom he had wished to call brother and cousin, with whom he had spent so many happy hours, lacerated a heart already wounded. “Will you not tell me the truth?” he asked, when Crawford’s pen had stopped moving. “Will you not tell me what really happened?”

Crawford paused a moment. “Inviting me to confession, O priest?”

“If it will help your soul or ease your conscience, yes. And perhaps it may help Maria to save her marriage.”

“You are assuming that she wants to save it.”

“I cannot believe she desires disgrace.”

Crawford looked like he would speak, then shook his head. “I have already said I did not do anything wrong. If Maria says differently, then that must be on her conscience, not mine.” He stood. “You will give this to her?”

“I will give it to her.”

He nodded, hesitated, then walked to the door. “Don’t punish Mary for my sins,” he said, when he got there. “She loves you.”

“And I love her. Whatever happens between us, it will be up to her.”

Again Crawford looked like he would speak—again he fell silent. “Tell Fanny I love her,” he finally said. “Tell her she is the only woman I have ever loved—that she is the woman I did not know existed. That my heart and my mind were constant. Tell her that, Bertram. My love was constant.”

“I will tell her,” said Edmund, “if she wishes to hear it.”

He lingered a moment longer, but there was nothing more either of them was willing to say. He was determined to maintain his innocence, and Edmund did not believe him. He left, and Edmund watched him go with dry, burning eyes.

~%~


Upstairs in Tom’s bedroom, Fanny was sitting in the window seat, reading Waverly aloud. She had seen Mr. Crawford come up to the house, and had barely been able to control her voice enough to continue. Filled with anxiety, she read with such trembling in her voice, and so many distracted mistakes, that Tom was ready to impatiently tell her to leave off, when she saw Mr. Crawford come out again. He walked slowly down the path, and when far enough from the house, turned to stare up at it. She fancied his eyes focused on the window where she sat, and she stopped reading altogether, unable to look away. He stood there for ever, she thought, gazing and gazing for the last time at Mansfield Park, and the girl in the window.
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Crawford, Chapter 7

Suzanne OJune 30, 2022 05:06PM

Re: Crawford, Chapter 7

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