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Crawford, Chapter 10 - complete

July 10, 2022 03:21PM
We're at the last chapter! Thank you to those of you who have been reading, especially all my commenters. Love you guys!



Chapter 10

The conversation over breakfast the next morning was strained. Edmund and Mary would neither one look at the other, and Fanny was too oppressed with nervous apprehension to do more than pick at her food. The dishes that had so delighted her only a few mornings ago were passed over as nothing; Edmund’s freedom was everything.

“I wonder, Mr. Bertram,” said Mary, as the tea and coffee were almost drunk, “if you would do me the favour of a few words.”

His eyes flew to hers. “Of course.” They stood up. “We can speak in the li—” he paused. “In my father’s room.”

She bowed her head and they went out, neither one touching the other. The long walk down the hall seemed to take for ever. With utmost politeness he opened the door for her, and bowed her into the room. Coming in behind, he shut the door firmly and stood there.

Mary walked to the centre of the room and turned.

“I am glad you asked to speak to me,” said Edmund. “As painful as—”

“Mr. Bertram,” she interrupted. “I am very sorry, but after consideration, I do not believe that we would suit after all.”

Edmund caught his breath.

“I am sorry if this gives you pain—I really thought we could make a match of it. But it is clear that our tastes and wishes are too different, and considering your family’s desire to forget the name of Crawford as quickly as possible, I believe it is for the best that we part ways. As our engagement has not yet been announced, that can cause no difficulty.”

It hurt him. Even after everything he knew about her, even after his own decision to end it, it still hurt to hear the cold and dismissive way she spoke. He bowed his head, not ready to speak.

“Henry left his carriage with me, and the servants who accompanied us, of course, so I do not require transportation. If you would be so kind as to perhaps send a maid with me, as far as London, I believe she may be returned to you in a few days. I shall need nothing else, except your goodness in sending my harp back to the parsonage.”

She had been speaking with her chin up, just a little, her cheeks flushed, just a little, her eyes not quite meeting his. He waited until they shifted, and she really looked at him. “It shall be as you desire,” he said. “I am sorry—” He stopped. What else could be said? Too much had passed between them now. His own sins closed his mouth about hers. He bowed. “I am sorry,” he repeated.

She forced a smile, and a light laugh. “There is nothing to be sorry for. You are quite delightful in your way, but I think we can both agree it would have been a mesalliance. All poor Henry did was hasten the process. Really, you should thank him.” She moved towards the door.

Edmund opened it for her, but just before she walked through it, he could not help but say, “My brother Tom is getting better, you know.” He met her startled eyes. “I intend for him to live a very long life.”

She flushed a dark red, jerked away, and stepped into the hall. Fanny had been standing in the doorway opposite, waiting anxiously for the outcome of the conversation. Their eyes met, and for a moment they stood, mirroring each other—both small, one dark, one fair, one in the latest town fashion, the other in her country gown. In silence they stared at each other; Mary’s face worked, and her jaw clenched. Fanny’s eyes filled with tears. Then in another moment, Mary had turned, and swept up the stairs.

Fanny’s gaze shifted to Edmund, where he leaned, slumped against the doorpost. She went across to him, and he put his arms around her, and held her for a moment against his heart. “Your friendship is all I have to rely on now,” he said.

~%~


That evening, as Lady Bertram dozed on the sofa in the drawing room (the harp had already been returned to the parsonage), Fanny crept up beside Edmund where he was sitting, and brooding, the lines of his face marked with pain. She knew the subject of Mary was still too fresh—he would not speak to her about it again for many, many days, she thought—but there was still much he had not told her.

“What will happen with Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth?” she asked, when he looked at her.

“I don’t know. My father is doing all he can—but it is scarcely possible that Maria should escape disgrace. Her crime is too grievous, committed too soon in the marriage—and she has shown no sign of repenting for it.” He sighed heavily. “You know I have never liked Rushworth, and I can only imagine that poor Maria was very unhappy with him, but he did not deserve such treatment as that.”

Fanny agreed. “And Julia? Have you heard anything of her?”

“She is with our cousins in Bedford Square, thankfully. I have been wondering if she perhaps knew something of what was passing in Wimpole Street, and went there on purpose because of it.” He shook his head. “I was there, you know—the night they met again, at Mrs. Frasier’s party. When I think of it, I still cannot believe…”

Fanny gave her silent sympathy, and they sat together, eyes focused on nothing in particular.

“Did you ever read that letter? The one Crawford wrote you?”

She shook her head.

“What did you do with it—burn it?”

“I put it in a drawer.”

He smiled. “Poor Fanny, unable to bring yourself to destroy it, even though you hated him.”

She coloured. “I didn’t hate him, at the end. I… I felt almost sorry for him, though he deserves no pity. He could not escape himself.”

“Any more than Mary,” he whispered, then shook his head, falling back into silence. Fanny could not forbear to place a timid hand over his, and he covered it with his other one, giving an affectionate squeeze. “Do you think you will ever read it?”

She started to shake her head, then paused. “I don’t know. I do not think so.”

“He really did love you, you know. With all the sins I have to lay at his door, still I am convinced that his affection for you was sincere.”

She did not reply, and perceiving how little she wished to speak of it, he said no more.

~%~


Tom had to be told, of course, as everything that was passing had been kept from him, and from Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris. The women never would hear the entire story, nor would Sir Thomas, but Tom got it, in bits and pieces, while Edmund was settling the blanket around his shoulders, or dealing cards out for piquet. Fanny was everything to Edmund then, of course, his chief confidante and dearest friend, the only one truly capable of understanding it all, but there were some things about which one could only unburden oneself to a brother.

It was a shock. Fanny and Edmund both had worried about what effect such news would have on Tom’s strained and weakened system, and there was no denying it was a grave shock to him. Tom felt his own responsibility, Edmund felt his, and together they spoke of guilt and regret.

One afternoon, when Fanny had been reading to Tom, Edmund came in. He leaned against the doorframe, watching them and listening to her voice. She looked up; he met her eyes, and smiled. She finished the passage, gathered her things, and after bidding Tom good afternoon, left the room on her way to sit with his mother. He caught her hand for a moment as she passed: just a fond acknowledgement, really, affection and appreciation and understanding. She squeezed his hand, smiled gently, and moved on.

Inside the room, Tom was leaning his head against the wing of his chair, his feet on a stool and a blanket over his lap. He had been watching them. “A good girl, that,” he said.

“Yes,” replied Edmund, “she always has been.”

“Starting to realise why Crawford favoured her.”

Edmund scowled. He was surprised when his brother chuckled. “You find it amusing that our cousin almost married a rake and a seducer?”

He shook his head. “No danger of that, from what I can see. Never wanted him.”

“No, thank God. She was wiser than the rest of us.” He looked up to see Tom smiling faintly. “What is it?”

Tom seemed at first as if he would not speak, but then he did, more seriously than Edmund was expecting. “You’ve been far better to me than I deserved through this, Ed. I don’t want you to think I will forget it.”

“You’re my brother. I only did what was right—what I wished to do.”

“And that’s why you were always so much better than the rest of us.” Tom shifted in his chair. “Why I think you’ll come out the best from all of this in the end.” Edmund started to shake his head. “You will. I know you don’t think you’ll recover, but you will.”

“Some day.” He heaved a sigh. “Some day, with persistence, and diligence in praying and setting my mind as I ought, working faithfully in my parish—”

“Sooner than that.” Tom was smiling mysteriously again.

Edmund felt a little offended. “I wish it might be so, but I don’t think you understand how—”

He waved a weak hand. “Don’t get your back up. I know your heart is broken. I just think you’ll recover sooner than you think, that’s all.”

Edmund eyed him narrowly, but Tom would vouchsafe no more information, so he changed the subject. Inwardly, though, he thought, he’s wrong. Tom didn’t understand what loving Mary—losing Mary—the disastrous engagement and all it brought with it, had done to Edmund. It would be long, long before he could forget her, or cease to grieve over everything that might have been, if only she hadn’t been ruined by bad society—if only her brother had been less of a libertine. Tom did not understand at all. The only one who did understand him was Fanny. She knew his feelings, she entered into them, and she quite agreed with him, too. It confirmed what Edmund already believed: he would never love any woman again like he had loved Mary, and Fanny alone was capable of supporting him through it. He could endure anything if he had her friendship; without her he would be truly alone. Fanny was all he had, and she was everything.

~%~


It was winter when Fanny found it again. She was sorting through all her old papers and possessions in the East room, while the wind howled outside and a fire crackled merrily in the grate. Downstairs, Lady Bertram was attended by Susan, who had come to them some months ago, and had proved so willing a companion and helper as to almost make herself as indispensable as her sister. Fanny hummed, a soft, tuneless air, as she rifled through old French exercises and half-drawn sketches from the East room’s heyday as a classroom. It made her alternately happy and sad to see these remnants of a more innocent age. Despite her determination to clear out everything that could not be taken with her, there were a few sheets she could not help but put aside again with a tender air.

At the bottom of a stack she found it: two sheets, folded twice over, with Fanny written across the top in an unfamiliar hand. She did not recognize what it was at first. Not until she unfolded the pages and began to scan them, did she realise, and dropped the letter again with a gasp. She eyed it, and wondered if she ought to toss it directly in the flames. It seemed almost indecent to read it now, after all this time. Yet, once caught, her curiosity could not be entirely smothered. Perhaps, she thought, it might be right to read it after all, just once. It was written to be read, after all. She would read it, then give it the merciful end it deserved, and think of it as little as she tried to think of the man who had written it.

A few minutes later Edmund tapped on the door. “Fanny, are you—what’s wrong?” He hurried into the room, and sat beside her. “Sweetheart, what’s happened?” He tilted her chin up, frowning in concern at her wet eyes and damp cheeks. “What’s happened to make you cry?”

Fanny shook her head, and warmth spread across her face beneath his gaze. “Nothing,” she said, and smiled a little. “Nothing at all.”

Edmund produced a handkerchief, dried her tears, and kissed her for good measure. Fanny’s heart tumbled over with ecstasy and delight; she still could hardly believe her happiness, could hardly believe that he really loved her. “There,” he said as he drew back, and smiled down at her in satisfaction. “Much better.”

“Oh, Edmund!” was all Fanny could say.

“Now, tell me the truth,” he said a little later, as he took her hand and looked around them. “Are you sad to be leaving your East room?”

“Oh, no! At least—a little, but that would not make me cry. Not when I know I shall soon have—” She paused, and blushed.

“Yes? What shall you soon have?” His eyes twinkled at her. “You can say it, you know. It is only a parsonage—it is not a manor or townhouse, or anything grand. It is only a few parlours and dining rooms and bedchambers, placed together with a reasonable degree of order. But, my dearest Fanny,” he went on, lowering his voice a little, “it is a parsonage, and it will certainly be yours, along with the parson who goes with it.”

This was more than Fanny could be expected to reply to with a reasonable degree of composure, and another very happy silence followed before Edmund brought the subject back to his original question. “If it is not the prospect of leaving your room here that brought on your tears, then what did?”

She sighed. “I found this in the drawer.” She gestured to the letter. Edmund looked questioningly. “It is Mr. Crawford’s,” she explained quietly.

“Ah.” Edmund drew back, his face growing serious. “You read it?”

“I felt like I ought to, before burning it.”

“And did you find anything in it worthy of your tears?”

She shook her head. “My tears are not worth much, I’m afraid.”

“I disagree. Your tears are worth a great deal indeed, and I intend to do everything possible to see that you shed fewer of them in the future than you have in the past.”

She creased the pages with her fingers. “Have you ever wondered what would have happened if the Crawfords never came to Mansfield at all?”

“Sometimes. I do not think Maria would ever have been very happy in her marriage, but she would not have been so unhappy so quickly. Perhaps she and Rushworth would have learned to live together before—” He sighed.

“And you?” she whispered.

“Me?” He smiled, and laid his hand along her face. “I would have loved you, just like I love you now. I cannot imagine any other possible outcome.”

Fanny opened her mouth, then closed it again. She might cherish some doubt, in her heart, as to whether Edmund would have ever made the change from cousinly to husbandly love if Mary had not broken his heart first, but what benefit could there be in saying so? That Edmund did love her, she had been given ample evidence, and as one who had waited long for a happiness she never really believed she would receive, she was not inclined to quibble with it.

She rose, and going to the grate, threw the letter in. “I do hope he finds peace—with God, as well as with men—eventually.”

“So do I, Fanny. I hope they all find peace, in learning to think more justly, and act rightly, and to submit to the good grace of their Creator.” He stood next to her, and put his arm around her waist. He pressed a kiss on her hair. “Now, my mother has sent me especially, to see if you will come have tea with her and Susan. Tom is still holed up with my father and his steward, and they want a fourth—that is, if you will admit me to your company.”

Fanny smiled fondly. “Of course.” He bent his head; she kissed his cheek, and they went out together like that, leaving the East room papers half-sorted, and the fire still snapping in the grate.

~%~



5 May

Fanny, my beloved—If you are reading this, then I can only hope it means you have not set yourself absolutely against me. Your gentle heart will not judge me harshly, I know.—I have wronged you, but not in my heart. I acted foolishly, but not maliciously. I thought too highly of my own ability to discern my situation—to know my danger—and I did not heed the warning you gave me. Lack of self-knowledge is a terrible thing, Miss Price. I fear my lesson in it is going to cost me too much. The price is too dear; I do not know how I can pay it.

I wanted to be the man who was worthy of you. I wanted to prove myself, to be everything to you. I wanted to teach you what it is to love—and though I know you will tell me that it is I who need to learn to love, I must insist that is not true. I do love. I love steadily and consistently, rationally as well as passionately. I know my mind, I know my intentions—and yet, somehow, I could not carry them out. I could not do the thing I wished to do, and I will regret it for the rest of my life. My weakness has opened a chasm between us—am I a fool to hope it may yet be overcome? To hope that someday I may be allowed to present myself before you again, and you will look on me, not with hate or fear, but compassion and forgiveness? I do not say I deserve your forgiveness, for I know I do not, but I have read the Scriptures too, and I know that forgiveness is never deserved. You told me to look to God, Miss Price, but I always hoped to find him in you. You will think me profane, but I can only be honest, now, in this last message—pray God it is not the last message! Fanny, my love! my love! Even now your cousin looks at me sternly; I have no more time left. If ever you find you can love me, write to me, at any time or any place. Mary will carry a message for you too. I will come for you at once. You are the only woman in my heart; I will never cease loving you. I will never cease to regret. All my hope is in you. —Henry




The End
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Crawford, Chapter 10 - complete

Suzanne OJuly 10, 2022 03:21PM

Re: Crawford, Chapter 10 - complete

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Re: Crawford, Chapter 10 - complete

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Re: Crawford, Chapter 10 - complete

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Re: Crawford, Chapter 10 - complete

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Re: Crawford, Chapter 10 - complete

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