July 07, 2022 04:14PM
Chapter 9

Fanny knew her cousin’s moods and expressions too well not to know something was very wrong. She had heard the rider come earlier—she could only assume the news was of the worst sort, and the knowledge of it pressed against her heart. She trembled, and wondered, and feared. She felt weak from suspense, and it was all she could do to remain in the drawing room, talking to her aunt and replying to Mary as if nothing untoward had occurred. Edmund had called Mary earlier—she must know the truth—but she did not speak of it. She looked a little pale when she came back, but smiled and spoke as always. They made nothings all afternoon, until the footmen brought in Mary’s harp. Fanny’s heart contracted again, to see this evidence of her inescapable presence in their lives.

At last, at dinner, he was there, and Fanny could observe for herself how miserable his engagement had made him. Well—perhaps it was the news from London that made him miserable, but his engagement had certainly not made him less so. He was making an effort to act as always, but it was a poor effort. Mary directed all her smiles at him, with little touches of the hand here and there. She spoke prettily of country living and Mansfield; the words “town” and “Henry” never once crossed her lips.

After dinner, Tom came down, and Mary played. It was Edmund’s favourite tune, Fanny remembered. Mary played it, and no one watching could doubt that it was he she played for. Their engagement was still not spoken of in the family; she understood he had been waiting to see what happened with Mr. Crawford, or perhaps for Sir Thomas to return. Their understanding, she thought now, must be obvious to anyone of sense who observed them. Lady Bertram, of course, did not see, but Tom surely did. Mary played for Edmund, and Edmund listened. Their eyes seemed to be communicating too, but it was a conversation Fanny was shut out of. She thought there was as much pain as pleasure in his countenance౼indecision౼ hope—despair—an agony of mind that could not be spoken. Despite herself, she hoped. She watched, and she hoped.


“Will you not bid me good-night, Edmund?” Mary stood behind him in the corridor, looking at him seriously.

He hesitated, and approached her. “Good-night.”

Instead of taking his hand, she wound her arms around him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

He swallowed. “Sorry for what?”

“For not telling you about Henry. I didn’t know when we first came here. And then I could not betray his confidence—surely you understand a sister’s feelings? I only wanted everything to continue as it was.” Her eyelashes dropped.

Edmund felt his will crumbling. “We will not have much of a marriage if you keep things from me,” he muttered.

“I know. You will forgive me?” She looked contrite, and he couldn’t help but kiss her. All is not lost, he thought—it doesn’t have to be lost.

“Mary,” he said after a little while. “You will have to give Henry up now—you know that, don’t you?”

“Give him up?” She drew back abruptly. “What do you mean?”

“There can be no further connection between him and my family. It is not supportable at all.”

“I understand you cannot have him here—at least not for now—but he is still my brother. You said you understood that.”

“That was before I knew the truth. If you want to write to him, I will not forbid it, but there can be no other relationship. He will never be able to come back to Mansfield, and I cannot have him at Thornton Lacey either. The character he has demonstrated—the depravity he has shown—the way he betrayed all of us is beyond any ability to undo or overlook.”

She pulled away further, eyes angry. “Well, I call that very fine, considering the fact that your sister was his partner in all this! She is the one who betrayed her marriage, not him!”

“I do not deny that, but—”

“It is enough.” She turned away. “I wish for no more sermons today, thank you! Good-night!”

He watched her walk away, and leaned against the wall from actual lack of strength. When she had gone, he straightened slowly. He turned towards his room—paused at the idea of its emptiness—and turned back towards the stairs. Up he went, to the school room floor. He did not know if Fanny would still be awake, but when he found the East room, there was a light under the door. He knocked, heard her speak, and went inside.

Fanny was sitting in a low, worn chair just before the fire in her grate. She did not look like she had been reading, or sewing, or doing any of the things he would expect. “Edmund?” Her eyes were wide with surprise.

“Fanny! I just came here to tell you—I thought that you should know౼” He drew a deep breath. “I just—” another deep breath—“Oh, Fanny!” She looked at him then, with such ineffable pity and knowledge, that before he knew what he was doing he walked to her side and dropped to his knees. “Fanny, what am I to do?” He buried his face in her lap and wept like a child.


The most timid of women may be roused to fierceness when a man weeps in her arms. Fanny held her cousin—an arm around his shoulder, a hand in his hair—and felt that wild force, love and protectiveness and power, sweep through her. I can release him, she thought suddenly, as her mind turned to Mary’s letter, still safe in her drawer. I can release him now.

She said nothing at first, though, but let him cry, as she had dim memories of once letting little Margaret cry in her lap. She had cried to Edmund before, when she was a child, and he had comforted her, an immovable tower of strength and kindness. Now here he was, crying at her feet, and she had never felt the distance between them to be so little, her weakness becoming strength, and his strength becoming weakness.

At length he grew calm, though he did not leave her, but moved to sit next to her, his head leaning against her knee. “You don’t mind if I sit here like this, do you?” he asked in a low, pitiful tone. “You won’t mind it, cousin?”

“No,” she whispered, and, because she could not help it, placed a hand on his head again. He moved against it with a sigh.

“Maria is fallen, Fanny. She surrendered everything to Crawford; my father does not know if her marriage can be saved.”

Though she had supposed it must be so, still it came as a blow. She gasped. “Oh, cousin! My uncle—my aunt—how shall they bear it? How can you bear it?”

He turned to look at her, his eyes strangely grateful. “It is a dreadful crime, isn’t it?”

“It is exceedingly dreadful,” she said earnestly. “A wicked sin! I cannot understand how she could do such a thing! As for Mr. Crawford, I am not entirely surprised, but Mrs. Rushworth—how can she have treated her vows so lightly?”

He grasped for her hand. “I think just as you do—it is a calamitous evil. Our entire family may be sunk beneath it. But I—” He pressed his hands to his eyes, and drew a shuddering sigh. “I am mired so deep in trouble I do not know how to get out.”

Fanny hesitated, wishing to ask, but fearing it too improper.

“If only my father had told me what was happening sooner! I would have acted differently then. I would never have—” He drew up, feeling the same sense of impropriety as she, but also the same urge to speak. “Spoilt, Fanny!” was all he said at last. “Bad example, bad teachers, bad friends—! The gifts of nature, all spoilt!”

Fanny scarcely dared breathe. She opened her mouth—paused—

“Say what you are thinking,” said Edmund.

Very softly—”You are not married yet.”

He stood up and began to pace before the fire, running his hands through his hair in agitation. “No, and I have been asking myself all day if it would be right to end it. I cannot think—a bad marriage is a greater sin than a broken promise surely—but it is not only the promise. There are other reasons. I—we—” He stopped abruptly, a flush running up his cheeks.

Fanny attempted rather than succeeded in not understanding the meaning of that flush. She stared at her hands.

Edmund recovered himself. “When I first found out—about Crawford and Maria, I mean—I assumed that any true sin between them must mean the end of the engagement. I believed it as a certainty. But Mary has no such ideas, and when I think of everything she was willing to give up for my sake—how she will be lowering herself to be a country parson’s wife—it is bad enough to break my heart, but to break hers too—”

Fanny thought of the letter in her drawer. Her heart pounded, and her breath came quickly. It was too bold an action—it was improper and wrong—but before she knew it, she had jumped up and run to the drawer. She held it close as she crossed back to Edmund, who watched her curiously.

Fanny thought of the letter in her drawer. Her heart pounded, and her breath came quickly. To show it would be improper, but in the face of his agony, to withhold it seemed worse. Mary’s motives were not so pure as he thought them—he ought to know the truth—before she knew it, she had jumped up and run to the drawer. She held it close as she crossed back to Edmund, who watched her curiously.

“What is that you have?”

She tried to speak, and had to stop and wet her lips. “It is a letter.”

His expression grew gentler. “Is it Crawford’s letter to you?”

She shook her head. He looked more curious. With a hand that shook, she held it out. Edmund took it, and glanced at the handwriting. “Is this Mary’s writing?”

She nodded.

“I am not sure I should read one of Mary’s private letters to you.” His eyes darted eagerly toward the words, though.

She forced herself to meet his gaze. “You ought to read it. It will—I think it will help you.”

His look was doubting but hopeful. He moved closer to the fire and began to read.

Already Fanny was doubting, already her own boldness overwhelmed her. It was necessary, she knew it was necessary, but still she felt the desire to snatch it back again, before he could read that part. It would wound him—it would wound him very deeply—with hands pressed to her stomach she watched him read. She could see the moment he reached the part—Fanny, Fanny, I see you smile and look cunning—she remembered the words very well. He frowned in confusion, then confusion gave way to dawning horror as the full import of her meaning became clear. On he read, through the end, the postscript mentioning her brother, until at last he dropped the letter. “Can it be possible?

“Forgive me!” cried Fanny. “Forgive me, I did not know if I should tell you.”

He shook his head, attempted to speak, looked lost and desolate. He took up the letter again; again read the terrible passage. “How corrupted can a mind become? And she wrote this to you, Fanny!” He shook his head; a kind of despair crossed his features. “So this is why she accepted me?”

Fanny opened her mouth, then closed it again. Her natural desire, to offer him comfort in his pain, would do him no good now. He had a short, though powerful struggle—there was agony, but relief as well. In the end, he came and sat down beside her again, and leaned his head on her knee, and sighed, and she knew that the worst had passed: he had submitted.

“You did the right thing,” he said at last. “Now I know—and I am free. Not free from loving her, I do not think I will ever be free from that. She is the only woman I could ever marry. But I know what to do now. I will speak to her tomorrow. The sooner it is ended, the better it will be for both of us.”

Fanny placed her hand back on his hair—he did not move, he allowed it—and despite so many overwhelming troubles, she was happy.


You should have reminded me how much I dislike clergymen, wrote Mary in her letter to her brother. This is all your fault, of course. The more I think of it, the more angry I am at you. You should have listened, all those times I scolded you for your flirting. I always told you it would land you in trouble at last. But I am tired of apologies, so I will not expect you to make any either. I daresay it would not have worked anyway. For all that Mansfield Park is so fine, the Bertrams do not have a house in Town, and being stuck in the country for months on end is just what I cannot abide. Besides, Sir Thomas is just the sort of hale, older man who is likely to live until he is 90, which is too long to wait, in my opinion. I am sorry you will not get your little Fanny in the end, but really, Henry, I do begin to wonder if she would ever have had you. She is very stubborn, despite her submissive ways. She and her cousin are rather alike in that respect. There is a strange sort of pride beneath their humility, an unwillingness to be persuaded

Mary put down her pen and wiped the tears from her cheeks. The candle beside her sputtered and bent, casting lurid shadows. She picked up the pen again, dipped it back in the ink, and continued to write.

into thinking like the rest of the world, or even to understand that that is how the world thinks. They will maintain their own opinions, no matter what you say. I should never have allowed myself to grow attached to a second son in the first place. It was ill advised of me all around, and I do not intend to repeat the mistake. You will need to continue at Everingham for the present, I am afraid, until Mrs. R …

On she wrote, into the night.

Crawford Chapter 9

Suzanne OJuly 07, 2022 04:14PM

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