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Crawford Chapter 8

July 03, 2022 10:19PM
All my thanks to all of you who are commenting! Enjoy!

Chapter 8

Mary saw Henry off from the parsonage. He took only his horse, and left the carriage for her use. He was suffering acutely—she could see it in his face, and hear it in his voice, and she cursed Maria Rushworth yet again for her indiscretion and folly. She was angry at Fanny too, very angry. The foolish girl could not understand what she had given up—she did not know the harm her perverseness had caused. If she had accepted Henry in the beginning, they would all be happy, instead of caught in this miserable uncertainty.

When he had gone, she went back inside and looked around. She was alone in the parsonage now, but for the servants. She would have to ask Edmund if she could move in at the Park. Either that, or she would have to go back to London. She would not mind that option—even if London was likely to be uncomfortable at the moment, it would still be more comfortable than waiting here, like Damocles beneath his sword. It was not in her disposition to wait meekly for trouble to come to her. She preferred to seize it herself, with both hands, and make what she could of it.

She debated whether she ought to wait for Edmund to call on her, or if she should go up to the house herself. She would not have doubted him, only yesterday—she ought not to doubt him now, but for that look on his face in the library yesterday, before he had hurried away. It was the look of a man who had seen something very unpleasant—not a flattering reflection on her, to be sure. It left her feeling rather more uncertain than she would like.

Well, she decided, she was cross with Edmund too, for sending Henry away. She would make him come to her. So she sat and played her harp with scarcely a pause until finally, late in the morning, Edmund came to her.

She did not look up as he came into the room, but played the minor chords of her song; they reverberated against the walls, melancholy and a little angry. When she finally stopped, Edmund was still standing, his eyes deep and mournful. She struggled a little to breathe.

“Henry is gone, if that is what you are wondering.”

“Mary, you must know how painful it was to me to send him away.”

“How should I know that? I told you yesterday that this affair with Maria was nothing to be concerned about. You should have listened to me.”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot believe that, and I do not think you believe it either. It is very natural that you should wish to protect your brother, and to believe the best of him, but I have reason to believe that his transgression—their transgression—has been, at the very least, serious. Maria is threatening to leave her husband—my father has gone to reason with her, if he can—Crawford’s name is spoken of౼”

“She is foolish indeed if she thinks Henry will want anything to do with her.” She spoke without thinking, and saw from Edmund’s expression that she had said the wrong thing again. She loved him, but it was so tiresome to be always worried about crossing his ideas of proper conversation. “I am sure,” she said after a moment, “that Sir Thomas will persuade her to remain with her husband. She cannot really wish to give up so desirable a situation, it is only her annoyance at her husband that makes her speak so imprudently. I heard that Mrs. Rushworth senior had come to live with them, and I daresay that is what brought it on. It is always difficult for two females to learn to live together, when both of them wish to be the mistress of the house.”

For a moment, Edmund’s face relaxed a little, and he seemed relieved. “You are not wrong,” he said, coming further into the room and seating himself for the first time. “In fact, you have hit remarkably close to the truth—it was a fight with her mother-in-law that precipitated the rest. I hope you may be correct that she will listen to reason. But still, it is an evil! It is a very great evil that she would even think of such a thing, let alone to speak of it! Your brother’s involvement౼ Mary, I hope it may not be so bad as it appears now, but the very fact that his name has been coupled with hers in such a public way, that he has been considered as a contributor, perhaps even the main cause, of such a break in marital accord—you must see how impossible it is that he continue any association with our family.”

“I hope you do not mean to say that I may not associate with my own brother!” Her alarm rose. “Unless you mean to say that you do not mean to associate with me.” As often as she had pondered the difficulties of marriage to Edmund, the prospect of losing him, even without the title, was painful in the extreme.

“I am certainly not such a cad as to draw back from an engagement,” he said gravely, without any of the animation and warmth she had come to expect from him. “Especially since you are not guilty of wrongdoing. I told my father before he left of our engagement, and he values you too much to lay any blame on you, or to expect me to withdraw. I also know you too well to suppose you will repudiate a relationship that is so dear to you. But Henry cannot be at Mansfield. Mr. Rushworth cannot be expected to accept him as a relation, and as for my sister, it would seem the further she is from him, the better it will be for them both.”

In her agitation, Mary stood up and began to walk around the room. Part of her wanted to protest angrily against the honourable motive—to demand he speak of love, or else take himself off—but a stronger caution kept her quiet. She wanted Edmund and Mansfield, and she believed she could have them. A little time, that was all that was required. A little soothing of sensibilities, a little time for the Bertrams to recover their sense of injured dignity. Henry would have to manage on his own for now. They would have to accept him back eventually. Even little Fanny would likely wait for him; it was not as if she had any other suitors.

But for now, she would not take offence at Edmund’s tone. He was shocked, she knew, shocked and grieved. He wanted soothing. She turned back. “My dearest Edmund,” she said. “How hard you take all this! You are distressed indeed.” She sat next to him on the sofa, and ran her hand down his face. He sagged under her touch. “You must let me do a wife’s office,” she whispered, “and give you comfort.” He hesitated—she saw him struggle between desire and compunction, but when she lifted her face, he capitulated. After all, as she had told him yesterday, it was too late for anything but hypocrisy now.

~%~


Fanny had taken the letter Mr. Crawford wrote for her and buried it deep under a stack of papers in a drawer in the East room. Her first impulse had been to burn it, but something about the sight of Mr. Crawford’s lone figure on the path outside affected her still, and in her pity she could not quite bring herself to burn the last message he wished to give her. She did not read it, of course—had no desire at all to see such a repetition of sentiments as it must contain—but she did not destroy it. She hid it away, instead, where it need trouble her no more.

There was a great deal of troubling information to consider. She was relieved that Mr. Crawford had gone, but it was clear he was leaving under a cloud of the gravest suspicion, and whatever had happened in London must be even more serious than she had previously supposed. Or perhaps it was not London, but Richmond and Twickenham that had been the scene of their guilt. Edmund’s words had confirmed that Sir Thomas went to town for some reason related to it—that public scandal and disgrace might even be possible. The prospect of it, and all it would bring with it, horrified her.

More and more she wondered at the Crawfords’ purpose in coming here. Was it only because of Tom’s illness? That seemed to be Mary’s reason, and she had certainly achieved her aim, if her brother’s misdeeds did not bring the engagement to an end. Fanny wished she could hope for this outcome, but she knew too well Edmund’s sense of honour. He had told her himself: he was committed, he would not draw back, he would try to make the engagement work. If Mary herself did not choose to end the relationship—and Fanny could hardly suppose she would, as long as Tom continued so ill—then it would be a marriage at last. And someday, Fanny thought with sinking feelings, she would see Henry Crawford again. If ever there was a sister who would refuse to relinquish a connection with her brother, no matter his transgressions, it was Mary. She would marry Edmund, and some day, Henry Crawford would be back in their home, and Fanny would have to accept his company once more. If only she could trust that he would have forgotten her by then!

His coming to Mansfield was more perplexing than Mary’s. To come to the family home of the woman he had just been dallying with! How did he not think discovery would follow him? If he only wished to leave Maria, he might have gone anywhere. He might have returned to Everingham, or even to Portsmouth. Surely either of those places would offer him better protection from his iniquities than Mansfield. That he had come, and come only for Fanny, to transport and bring her home to Mansfield and to show her attentions, was the only possible conclusion. There was none other, and Fanny marvelled at the uncertain and unprincipled character of a man who could show such sincere devotion to one woman even while courting the favour of another.

She spent half the morning with Tom before Edmund came and assured her that Crawford had left for good, when she came downstairs and remained with her aunts throughout the day. Mrs. Norris was more bullying than usual, and it wore on Fanny’s tattered nerves, but she bore it as best she could. There were no Crawfords come to break up the small group today, and while Fanny was glad for it, she could not help but miss the distraction it provided her aunts. Her spirits were not improved by a letter from Susan, who wrote disconsolately of the troubles Betsey was causing her, and wished she could be at Mansfield with Fanny. The inclusion of kind messages from Lady Bertram were the only cheerfulness Fanny was able to add to her own letter.

Of Edmund she saw little, once he had delivered Crawford’s letter and his news to her. She knew he had gone down to the parsonage, but what passed there, she could only guess. Mary had clearly remained behind. When he came back, he stopped in the drawing room only to ask his mother if she would object to Miss Crawford coming to stay with them for a few days, as she was alone at the parsonage now. Lady Bertram had assured him that she could not imagine it causing the slightest trouble to anyone, and he had gone away again. Fanny later heard his voice, coming from Tom’s room, but she did not approach.

In the afternoon he called for a carriage, and in less than an hour after that, the footmen were bringing in Miss Crawford’s things, and then Miss Crawford herself was in the house, laughing as she took off her bonnet and followed the housekeeper up the stairs. This is it, Fanny thought. Now that she is installed here, we will never get her out again. She hated herself for the bitterness of her thoughts, though, especially against one who would soon be her relation, and by the time Mary came down into the drawing room, she was feeling so guilty, so chastened and determined to do better, that she met her with more than usual affection.

“I am very angry with you, Fanny,” said Mary directly, “sending Henry away without so much as a kind word like that! But as I suppose we are to be cousins I must forgive you, and hope that time, as well as my words, will convince you to look on him more favourably next time.”

Edmund was coming up behind her, and Fanny glanced at him to see if he heard this speech, and how he took it. He frowned, but all he said was, “Dinner is to be in an hour. I hope you will have enough time to unpack and do everything you wish by then.”

“Oh, dinner! A real Mansfield dinner is worth any rush of preparation, especially after you have been eating poor Hettie’s cooking down at the parsonage like I have. I cannot wait to have meat that’s well dressed and vegetables that aren’t boiled again. I will not care how I look, as long as I can eat.”

Neither party could withhold a smile at that, and soon Miss Crawford had moved on to greeting Mrs. Norris and thanking Lady Bertram very prettily for the invitation to stay with them. “I am sure it shall be very pleasant to have another young face about,” said Lady Bertram, “since we are very quiet most days now. Tom shall like the company, I think—he shall like the company, when he comes downstairs again.”

“Indeed, I hope he may.”

“I think he may be well enough to come down after dinner,” said Edmund. “How did he seem to you this morning, Fanny?”

“Better—I really think he was better. He seemed quite aware when I was reading to him.”

“I told you he would like listening to you. You are always very pleasant to listen to—isn’t she madam?” He addressed his mother.

“I always like listening to Fanny read,” she agreed.

“To be sure, Fanny can read well enough, but her voice is too soft to be really good. She does not read as well as the gentlemen—as Sir Thomas or you, Edmund. Or Mr. Crawford. Now there was a superior reader. I would listen to him any day. Fanny must not be supposing that anyone prefers her reading to his, or any one else’s either.”

Mrs. Norris’s speech pretty well put an end to any bantering or easy conversation. Miss Crawford soon went back up to finish her preparations. Dinner itself was extremely painful to Fanny’s feelings. Mary spoke to Edmund through the whole meal, teasing him for being the only gentleman among so many ladies, and then asking him questions about his parsonage at Thornton Lacey. Fanny could see how well these questions pleased him—could see him growing more cheerful as the meal went on—and though she told herself she ought to be pleased for him, it was with great difficulty that she was able to reply to Mary’s occasional request that she support her opinion.

After dinner, Edmund went upstairs to bring Tom down. Mary settled next to Fanny. “I suppose your cousin will be wishing to return to his parish soon.”

“Yes, I believe he rides over once a week, when he can, to consult with the curate. Now that Tom is improving, he may be able to go more often.”

“Do you think I have any hope of luring him into town with me? I should not like to make the journey alone.” She took Fanny’s arm. “You ought to come too, to play chaperone. You will like London; I could take you around and show you all the churches, and the historic sites that I am sure you know better than I. We can visit the Tower, and see where Henry VIII beheaded his queens.”

“I could not leave Lady Bertram again so soon.”

She sighed. “And I suppose Edmund will say he cannot leave his parish.”

“Or his brother.”

“Yes, I haven’t forgotten him.” Her face looked a little sly. “This is a very fine drawing room, isn’t it? I wonder how it would look if it were reupholstered in blue.”

Fanny was so disgusted that she could not prevent herself from drawing away.

“Oh, don’t, Fanny,” Mary shook her head. “Do not look so disapproving. Don’t worry—I will be a very good wife to Edmund. I intend to make him very happy, and if certain events take place to make me very happy, then they will be completely out of my hands. You will have nothing to condemn me for. I cannot stop the course of nature, can I?”

Fanny could not reply. What reply was possible? The peace that the brother had cost her was nothing to the misery brought on by the sister.

Soon enough, the men were back. Tom did look better than yesterday. The room grew a little bit livelier, as everyone exerted themselves to make pleasant conversation for him. Mary was all that was charming, and promised that if Mr. Edmund Bertram would be so good as to bring up her harp from the house tomorrow, they should have some music in the evening. “For I cannot play the pianoforte, no matter how I try. Perhaps it is not in my nature. I would rather pluck at things than depress them.”

Fanny went to bed with all the felicity of seeing her cousin holding his lady’s hand as they went up the stairs before her.

~%~


The express rider arrived late the next morning. Edmund took the packet he brought into his father’s room. Mary watched him walk past her in the hall, and half held out a hand, but he shook his head. He must read what it said in private.

The letter from his father was not very long, not expressive of his usual deliberate and thorough manner of writing and speaking. Sir Thomas had found the situation in Wimpole Street all that Mr. Harding had described. Mrs. Rushworth was outraged, Mr. Rushworth all things jealous, angry and humiliated. Maria had at first refused to speak to him. She would not be talked to—she would not subject herself to the same authority she had so recently escaped. The name of Mr. Crawford was raised—she reacted proudly and laughed. She would answer no questions about him, no questions about any of her previous statements. Sir Thomas told her where Mr. Crawford was. Then she grew angry. She tried to deny it—he replied with details. Then—here Sir Thomas’s narrative gave out. He could only say that there seemed no doubt of their intimate involvement, or that Maria had been waiting expectantly for him to return. She had abandoned any pretence of affection for her husband, and given it all to the other man.

The fate of the Rushworths’ young marriage was still very much in doubt. No one could question Mr. Rushworth’s right to end it, but if Maria could be prevailed upon to reconcile, then Sir Thomas was not completely unhopeful that Rushworth would agree. The scandal of it all—of a lengthy and public divorce, with all the humiliating revelations that would entail—was a powerful deterrent. Even Mrs. Rushworth senior, in her fury, could not entirely desire it. Her servant, when questioned, was found to not have seen very much. Crawford had left town too soon after their arrival.

Sir Thomas’s last injunction to Edmund was to ensure Mr. Crawford left Mansfield as soon as may be. “I say nothing of Miss Crawford,” he wrote. “You must determine your own best course of action.” He would remain in London until he felt he could do no more good. Edmund must take care of it all.

Edmund sat a long time in a state of utmost misery. It seemed hardly possible to him that it had really happened—that everything described in the letter, everything he had experienced in the last three days could have happened. It was a disaster beyond all reckoning. Their entire family was encompassed in its evil. Even if Rushworth did not choose divorce, it was a sin that could not be overlooked. Knowing the two of them as he did, the difference in their dispositions and their minds, he did not see how a true reconciliation could ever be achieved between the married couple. She would never attempt to earn his forgiveness, he would never attempt to give it. They might avert scandal, but not ruin.

Of Crawford’s role in this he could barely think. It disgusted him to know that he had been his friend—that he had wanted him to marry Fanny! How the man he had known, the man who had had the sense and taste to value her, could act in such a senseless and immoral way he would never understand. It was more than despicable, it was positively wicked.

And Mary. Mary. What did this mean for them? What path forward did this allow? With sighs of agony Edmund contemplated his future. Could she be prevailed upon to give her brother up? Surely once she knew the truth—once she found out the whole, terrible truth she would understand that it had to be. It was Henry or Edmund, brother or husband. There was no compromise possible now.

From the time Mary had made her defence of Henry’s flirtations and revealed their reality at the same time, Edmund had known that he made a mistake. Their opinions were too different, their principles too out of alignment. She had been corrupted too far by her London friends, led astray from her youth. He had thought that their differences could be gotten over, and as her heart was good, she would soon learn to think as he did—but almost every moment since their engagement had been teaching him how foolish he had been, how reckless to plunge ahead despite every obstacle.

But, that had been his fault. She had not hidden her nature from him. And the promise he had made, the liberties he had taken, the very ardent love and desire he still felt for her, all held him bound even in the face of her brother’s growing guilt. He was hers. He must and always would be hers—but neither could he ask his family to countenance such a connection as Henry Crawford. He would never allow such a man into his own home. The connection must be severed.

Heart filling with pity and anxious love, Edmund sent a servant to bring Mary. She came, looking at him with hesitant curiosity. “Mary,” he murmured, taking her hand. “My dearest Mary.”

“Good heavens. Has someone died?”

“No, not that, thank God, but I can scarcely think it much better.” He led her to a seat. “You must prepare yourself, dearest. It is terrible news.” He brought her his father’s letter, and let her read it.

Mary’s face tightened as she read. “Foolish girl!” she exclaimed. “How could she be so heedless?”

He stared. “You call it foolish?”

“Don’t you? Extremely, unforgivably foolish. To cast away everything for the sake of a man who clearly does not want her!”

He drew back, paused—”Mary, perhaps you don’t understand. They have committed adultery.”

She looked up at his face. “It is very shocking, I know. And I do not mean to defend Henry. It was the stupidest thing he could have possibly done, and so I told him, but you must admit that things would never have come to this pass if Maria had only been a little more sensible.”

His heart pounded in his ears as he looked at her. She was reading the letter again. “Mary,” he said at last, very slowly. “Mary—you knew?”

She froze for a moment, and did not reply.

“You knew.” The statement hung heavy in the air. He could hardly think, or breathe.

“Edmund—my love—you must understand. He was trying to get away from her, to end it. He knew he had done wrong—he would not have made the same mistake again. He loves Fanny, and I am sure he would have been faithful to her. He would not have strayed at all, if she had accepted him.” Her beautiful dark eyes looked up at him, apprehensive but also sincere. He understood. She did not even know what she was saying, not really. She only spoke of the world she knew, and the people who lived in it.

“I would never want my cousin to marry an adulterer.”

She flushed.

“Or a liar.”

She put her chin up. “There is no question of that now, of course. He has already left and gone back to Everingham, so you need have no concern for Fanny’s virtue and purity.” She stood up. “Not that that was in jeopardy with him. He would never have treated her that way.”

He crossed his arms.

“Edmund.” She came to him, and placed her hand over his heart. Despite everything, he quivered at her touch. “Come, can we not be friends? Can we not agree that both our relations have behaved very badly? It is a sad situation, and I hope it may be remedied soon. Rushworth will have to learn the cost of having a beautiful wife, and Maria will have to learn to take comfort in her house and jewels, when her husband disappoints her. Theirs will not be the only marriage of that sort in town, I promise.” She smiled alluringly. “It need not interfere with our happiness.”

She lifted her face, but he did not kiss her this time. He could not, not now. Not yet. Instead, he turned away. “I must write my father a reply,” he said. “The express rider is waiting for it.”

There was a pause. “Do you not love me then, Edmund?”

“I do.” He stared at the desk in front of him. “I love you. You must give me a few minutes—a little time, that is all.”

She laughed uneasily. “I have disappointed you.”

He knew not how to reply. To say the things he was truly thinking would be to cause a break in their relationship that could scarcely be repaired. And perhaps they should be said—but he could not think, could not decide, while she still stood in the room with him. He needed to be away from her in order to find any peace or order in his thoughts.

After a moment she laid a last hand on his back, said, “You will see that I am right,” and went away. He pulled his wits together enough to write a short note to his father, to inform him of Crawford’s having left, and Mary remaining at the house. Fanny was safe—his mother was well—Tom appeared to be improving. It was all the good news he had to give him. He sent the letter off with the rider in only a quarter of an hour.

Voices came from the drawing room. He paused in the doorway, unwilling to enter, but seeing the domestic scene of his mother on her sofa, and Fanny and Mary, sitting together, both working on some kind of stitchery. Fanny was speaking to Mary in her soft, serious way, and his mother dozed contentedly with her pug by her side. It was a scene to increase all his confused feelings, to represent his most precious hopes. He wanted that scene. He wanted his cousin and his wife, his Fanny and Mary, as friends, together, part of his family circle. He wanted it with a most bitter desire.

Fanny looked up; paused for a moment—they shared a glance across the room. Then she bent her head again. Edmund turned away. He was not fit for any company now, much less the company in that room. He was not even fit to be with Tom, so to occupy himself he called the carriage and went to fetch Mary’s harp from the parsonage. It was one more act of commitment, but what was that? He was already committed.

The day drew out. Every minute one misery or another pressed against him. Maria— Crawford—Mary. He could only imagine what his father suffered. He tried to pray, and found he could cry out nothing more than the words, Have mercy!
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Crawford Chapter 8

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