A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park
By DeeDee Baldwin
Submitted to the Honors Committee at William Carey College, May 2001
Supervised by Allison C. Chestnut
Background: Frances O'Conner as Fanny Price in Miramax's Mansfield Park. Picture from the Frances O'Conner Web Pages
About two hundred years ago, Miss Fanny Price of Portsmouth, a little girl with no fortune and no breeding, had the good luck to be adopted by Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised in the society of her wealthy relations, with all the comforts and consequences of a handsome house and a large income. Her upbringing was carried out with the strictest care, lest she think herself equal to her cousins, or otherwise entitled to any benefits lavished on them, whether they be in the form of Aunt Norris’ brand of kindness or of the attentions of young men with great estates and open hearts. In spite of these worthy attempts, Fanny emerged as her uncle’s only comfort.
Sir Thomas’ elder daughter, Maria, made a splendid match, if a match with an affluent and stupid man may be called splendid. She forsook this wedded bliss, however, and ran away with Henry Crawford, the rejected suitor of her cousin Fanny, thus bringing upon herself not only disgrace, but also the constant companionship of her Aunt Norris. Maria’s sister, Julia, also married a stupid man — but one without the redeeming quality of a large income. Fanny, then, would be the daughter in whom Sir Thomas took pride. What of Sir Thomas’ sons, the young Mr. Bertrams? After a rather unpromising beginning, Tom was becoming the future heir his father wished him to be, and Edmund was as steadfast as ever, though in poor spirits following his rejection of Mary Crawford.
Those who should be happy were made so, and those led to folly and ruin by varying amounts of heedlessness and vice were left unhappy. Here “A Lady” left the Bertrams, the Crawfords, and Fanny Price in 1814, and it is here that I continue their story.
When a lady is determined not to take the trouble to be anything but contented, and her beloved Pug is shuffling restlessly in her lap, and she is occupied chiefly with breathing and napping with such elegance as only a lady can manage, a loose thread is a nuisance that cannot be borne. But when that lady has a niece, a very thoughtful and obliging niece who may be summoned with the smallest sigh — ! “Fanny,” said Lady Bertram, who was just such a lady employing just such a sigh for just such a niece.
Fanny Price looked up from her book and smiled; any acquaintance of hers might have called it a knowing smile. “What is it, Aunt?”
“I fear it is too much trouble, Fanny, but perhaps you have noticed this loose thread on my sleeve?”
Fanny had not. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Does it not seem very vexing?”
Fifteen-year-old Susan Price, who sat near a window doing satin-stitch, turned her face aside and gave a small cough which sounded much like a laugh. Edmund, too, might have found humor in his mother’s predicament and might also have enjoyed the book which lay open in his lap, had he not been staring at the wall.
“Yes, quite,” Fanny replied.
Lady Bertram sighed again. “Chapman will have to pull it out for me later.”
“Would you like me to take care of it, Aunt?”
“Oh, Fanny, it is too much trouble. You must not.”
Fanny rose and knelt by her aunt, and with a quick twist of her wrist, plucked the thread. As she sat down and lifted her book again, Fanny glanced at Susan, who raised her eyebrows and rolled her eyes. She shifted her gaze to Edmund, for whom her concern was growing daily, and was surprised to find him smiling at her warmly. Only a minute passed before Fanny heard Edmund leave his chair, and she watched over the edge of her book as he paced the length of the room a few times, then finally left. Lady Bertram either did not notice or did not care. Susan watched him, then returned to her stitching with an expression of boredom and resignation.
Fanny, however, closed her book without marking her place and left it behind her on the chair as she went to find Edmund. He stood right outside in the hallway looking through a window. He leaned towards it slightly, his hands resting on the ledge, and he stood at such an angle that his back was to her. He seemed to know she was there, however, and said, “Fanny, you have the greatest patience in the world.”
“Do not say so.”
“Fanny, I have never known you to discourage speaking the truth! No, you will be called patient; I shall not take it back.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Anyone else would have left the thread for Chapman,” he chuckled. “But I shall be serious. You are patient in the way you deal with all of us, Fanny. Especially — especially with me.” Fanny remained silent. “I have come to the point, you know, that I cannot imagine why I loved her.”
A pair of laughing eyes flashed before Fanny, and she forced herself to clear her thoughts. She could not tell if they belonged to Mary or to Henry, nor did it matter; they were Crawford eyes, and that was all. “What has brought you to that conclusion at last?” she asked.
“At last? Yes, Fanny you have put it properly, for I should have seen long ago that she was a creature of my own making. She cared little for anything but herself” — then affectionately — “but you have always cared for others, and have always been too good to me.” He smiled and took on a lighter tone. “Now, my dear Fanny, what are your thoughts on our ball tonight?”
“I look forward to it with pleasure — especially to the occasion it celebrates.”
Later that afternoon, Tom would return from an extended visit to town, and Sir Thomas decided to give a ball, both to welcome back his son, and to cheer the rather forlorn residents of Mansfield Park. He could never forget the fact that his daughters, in whom he had invested so much money but not enough affection by half, were lost to him; but he would not allow the rest of his family to be punished with unwarranted misery. Did he not have a daughter in Fanny Price, and could they not all be gay again?
“Yes, I will be most happy to see my brother again,” Edmund agreed. “I understand that he has changed so much for the better, and I believe he will make Father proud after all. He actually went to town for business rather than pleasure, though I dare say he enjoyed his fair share of the latter. He brings several friends with him tonight.”
“Really? Do you know them, Edmund?”
“I have never met them, but Tom wrote in his four-sentence letter that they are delightful people. We may judge for ourselves tonight. Their aunt, Lady Prescott from Derbyshire, happened to be visiting a friend in the county last December, and so attended the ball held for you and William.”
“Yes, I remember your mother briefly mentioned her name.” Fanny had carried on a somewhat one-sided conversation with her aunt on the day after that ball, and Lady Bertram had recalled that Lady Prescott had “noticed something” in Fanny, though she could not remember what it was.
They were both silent for a long time. Fanny watched the gradual emergence of the sun from behind a cloud, and Edmund watched Fanny. “I must go to my father now,” Edmund said at last. “Good afternoon, Fanny.” He pressed her hand, then walked off, leaving her in a not uncommon state of confusion.
Hours later, Fanny descended the staircase at Sir Thomas’ side, wearing a white dress, William’s amber cross on Edmund’s gold chain, and blushes effected by her uncle’s compliments. Susan came down behind them, all excitement for her first ball. The ballroom looked splendid, though this affair was not quite as grand as the one held not long ago in Fanny’s honor. Mrs. Norris would have had some remarks on this unwarranted distinction of Fanny, had she known that Tom’s honor was lacking in any way to Fanny’s.
No such uncharitable feelings between cousins, however — “Fanny!” Tom exclaimed warmly when he saw her. He took quick steps to her side and kissed her hand. “May I steal her from you, Father? I have friends to introduce!”
As Tom led her away, Fanny protested quietly, “Do you think it quite necessary? They can have no interest in me. Perhaps . . .”
“Nonsense, Fanny! You have no reason to be timid. My friends are quite civil, I assure you, and very eager to meet you, for I’ve told them so much about you.”
“But . . .” She could not continue, as Tom had stopped and bowed before several handsome young people.
“Fanny, may I introduce my very good friends from London: Mr. and Mrs. Cooke, and her sister and brother, Mr. James Prescott and Miss Charis Prescott. My cousin, Miss Price.”
“Miss Price. How do you do? Such a pleasure, I’m sure,” came the requisite, polite chorus of voices.
James Prescott was the brother of three younger sisters and made his father proud by being “the most responsible, sensible, and unaffected young man in the country.” His friends, however, valued him more for his charm and endless good humor, which overcame his shyness when he was among those who made him feel at ease. He stood to inherit Oakbridge, a respectable estate of three thousand a year, which was located near the tiny village of Lambton in Derbyshire.
Charis was her brother’s closest friend and confidant, a girl who possessed not only the virtue of beauty, but those not insignificant ones of sense and sweetness. She and James were admired and respected by everyone within a day’s ride of Oakbridge, and claimed steady friendships with the families of Chatsworth, Edgecombe, and Pemberley. Tom singled her out as his favorite from the start, not only among her siblings, but among every acquaintance he made in London; he made this hasty judgment based on the curl of her hair and the lightness of her step, to be sure, but it may be to his credit that his initial interest lasted not only through their first conversation, but through many more following.
Martha Cooke grew up nothing like James and Charis in mind, though she shared their handsome features and good hearts, characteristics which her husband could appreciate enough to marry her. No people spoke to Mr. Cooke without wondering why, exactly, they were wasting their time with him; he was an amiable man, but could only provide good company until one remembered that he possessed no other traits which made him interesting.
One of the Prescotts was missing — a girl of nineteen named Anna, who resembled Charis in every respect but good looks, for some went so far as to pronounce her “ugly” until they knew her, and then she became “rather plain.” Unfortunately, her sharp mind, thoughtful nature, and ready laugh were undervalued in company, for Charis boasted these same virtues, with the added profit of a pretty face. Anna had met Tom in London with her brother and sisters, but a prior engagement prevented her from accepting the invitation to Mansfield Park.
The Cookes stayed and conversed with Fanny a little while, then moved away to speak with Lady Bertram, who this evening was paying her eldest son the great compliment of standing at his ball. Tom and Charis were soon occupied primarily with each other, for two young people who find each other sensible and witty are not likely to be disappointed in also thinking each other handsome. Thus Fanny and James were left in each other’s company.
“My aunt told me much of you, Miss Price,” said James. “I don’t suppose you remember, but she had the pleasure of meeting you last year. She always spoke with fond recollection of that ball and the pleasures it afforded.”
For her part, Fanny could no longer think of the ball with “fond recollection,” owing to the grievous circumstances soon following, but replied, “Indeed, I do remember meeting Lady Prescott, though there were so many new faces that night to frighten me.”
James smiled. “Do you live here with the Bertrams, then, Miss Price?”
Fanny colored a little, thinking of her family and their less than admirable conditions in Portsmouth. “Yes, sir, my uncle and aunt were kind enough to take me in.”
“I see. Well, since you are so familiar with the grounds of Mansfield Park, perhaps you would not mind showing a stranger around the dance floor when the music begins — if I am not very frightening?” His easy smile would not allow refusal, and Fanny signaled her acceptance with a nod. “Excellent. Now what is your verdict on Tom Bertram, Miss Price?”
“My verdict, sir?”
“Yes, what do you think of him?” James grinned as he noticed Tom leaning a bit closer to them.
“His father is pleased with him,” Fanny replied.
“Ah. So his father thinks well of him, and his cousin will not give her opinion.”
“He is appreciated by his father and his friends, and that should be commendation enough. What matters the opinion of a cousin?”
“It matters a great deal, for perhaps his friends are deceived in him. It would be a great injustice — do you not agree, Miss Price? — if a young lady knew her cousin’s friend to be deceived in him, and did not enlighten him?”
“Would it not also be a great injustice if a man, slandered by a cousin, were to lose the good company of his friend?”
“’Good company’? I thank you, Miss Price. Now what do you think of Tom?”
“I like him very much, though perhaps,” Fanny smiled, “his choice of friends is questionable.”
“Hear, hear, Fanny!” Tom broke in with a laugh. “Don’t think I haven’t been listening, Prescott, you scoundrel. Do not fear, Fanny, I shall take him away from you. Surely my friend the busybody would like to meet other people. Lucas is here — you have heard me speak of Lucas, Prescott; and so is my particular friend Davies, whom I met at the races. Come along.”
“First dance, Miss Price?” laughed James as Tom led him and Charis away.
Fanny smiled after them, then jumped as someone touched her elbow. She turned to see Edmund, who offered her a glass of wine. “Fanny, you look beautiful.”
Fanny felt the compliment and accepted the glass from his hand. “Thank you,” she replied, and, desiring to turn the conversation quickly from herself, she remarked, “What do you think of Tom’s friends?”
“I cannot say, for Tom has not introduced me to them yet, though they seem like fine people.” Then, admiringly — “He must think very highly of you, Fanny, to have you meet his friends before his brother does.”
“Edmund, don’t say such things. Perhaps he could not find you.”
“I was standing by the door,” Edmund contradicted with a smile. “No other explanation will suffice, Fanny, but that Tom thinks very highly of you.”
“I do not think it is so; he must have wanted to introduce you first.”
“But the fact remains that he did not,” he replied in good humor, “but never mind that. What did you think of his friends?”
“I like them very much indeed, for they seem kind and sensible, but I have not spoken to them long enough to form any sound judgment.”
“Dear Fanny, when you form your judgment, let me know, for you are never wrong. How I wish I had listened to you in the past — what your insights, had I heeded them, might have spared me!” He thought of the Crawfords, and so did Fanny. With his meaning understood, it was best to find a safer subject. “Will you dance the first with me?” he asked.
“I would love to, Edmund, but I have already promised the first to Mr. Prescott. I’m sorry.” Fanny longed to take back the promise, but knew that it would be too impolite to do so. How her heart would have been gladdened if Edmund had offered this honor all those months ago, instead of bestowing it on Mary Crawford; yet here he was, making the request she never thought to hear, and she was forced to refuse!
Edmund glanced over at his brother’s friends and could not help but notice the handsome face and figure of James Prescott, but it was only a dance, after all! A few minutes later, the music started, and Edmund bowed as James walked over to claim Fanny.
“Mr. Prescott, this is my cousin Edmund Bertram,” Fanny introduced them.
“Tom’s brother!” James offered his hand eagerly. “A pleasure to meet you.”
Edmund shook his hand and tried to smile. “Likewise.”
Edmund watched as James led Fanny into the set. They were a handsome pair, even when compared to Tom and Charis, who stood beside them. He comforted himself with the thought that Fanny never did care about such things, as proved by her steady refusal of Henry Crawford. Then again, Henry wasn’t exactly handsome, nor did he have the moral character which might have given him a hope to win Fanny Price. Even so — ! With these things in mind, Edmund allowed himself to feel concerned about Fanny. He would not have called it jealousy.
It was a wonderful night for Fanny; she had not once felt fatigued, and her conversations with James Prescott only served to make her more pleased with him. Great was her delight, therefore, to learn that they would remain two weeks at Mansfield Park. She was happy for her sister, who appeared quite satisfied with her first ball and eager for her next. Indeed, Fanny’s only regret as she fell asleep that night was the rather depressed look of Edmund all evening — but to that, she reminded herself, she was much accustomed.
Breakfast was especially lively the next morning, owing to the additional company, as well as the conversation topics provided by the ball. Two of the usual faces were absent; Edmund was at Thornton Lacey and Susan was still asleep. Mr. and Mrs. Cooke spoke chiefly with Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, while Tom occupied himself with Charis Prescott. Fanny, therefore, was left quite satisfactorily to the conversation of James, who had already come to like Fanny a great deal and asked her to give him a tour of the grounds. He discovered that, like himself, she was quiet and timid until she was encouraged and given the opportunity to say what she was thinking. What some had never learned after knowing Fanny for years, James understood and appreciated immediately.
He loved listening to her; his breakfast had remained almost entirely untouched. She spoke with knowledge and enthusiasm on subjects that were important to her, and listened eagerly in return. James generally confined his end of the conversation to questions, merely for the sake of hearing Fanny talk as much as possible. When she asked him a question, he made his answer short and waited for her to continue. Nor could he be insensible of her natural, understated loveliness.
For her part, Fanny was growing equally fond of James. In her mind, he was a model of everything that was good in Henry Crawford, and he possessed other characteristics which she found lacking in Henry. She was glad to have the chance to befriend James, but could not forget whom she really loved.
“Tell me, Miss Price,” said James, snapping a leaf from a bush as they passed by, “how did you come to live at Mansfield Park?”
“My family live in Portsmouth, and are very poor. My mother being the sister of Lady Bertram, I was invited by my uncle and aunt to come to live at Mansfield Park. I was but ten years old when I came here.”
“You are fortunate to have such generous relations, but were you not unhappy?”
Fanny looked at him in wonder, amazed that he could understand her so completely. Perhaps it was an easy assumption; Mrs. Norris, with all her speeches about gratitude, was hardly characteristic of the general population. But Fanny had never been quite reconciled to the fact that her initial misery was natural, and had certainly never been reassured to that end by anyone else. “What would make you think so?” she asked him.
“Of course, it was kind of the Bertrams to take you in, and your life has changed for the better. But to take a child — that is, such a child as you must have been, Miss Price — so suddenly away from her family! To have separated you from William, whom you have told me so much about!”
Fanny smiled. “I hardly know how to express my gratitude to you, Mr. Prescott.”
“Gratitude?” he asked, surprised. “For what?”
“For understanding, sir, that my unhappiness was not unwarranted, even in the midst of such generosity. Could you only imagine how I was scolded for feeling that my situation had not improved, but worsened! The luxury of my new surroundings could not compensate for the loss of equality and importance and love. Edmund, I think, understood a little.”
As they spoke, Edmund himself had just arrived at the park from Thornton Lacey; he greeted everyone in the sitting-room and kissed his napping mother on the cheek, but immediately noticed one particular absence. “Where is Fanny?” he asked, looking around.
Tom turned his attention briefly away from Charis. “She’s out walking with Prescott,” he answered with his usual cheer.
“Ah.” Edmund stood a little straighter and went to talk to Susan, who had never liked him.
Fanny and James returned a half-hour later, and as soon as Edmund heard them outside the room, his words trailed off and he turned to the door. Susan gave a small shrug and returned to her satin stitch, not really caring one way or the other about Edmund’s attention. The pair entered the room and Edmund noted how colored, healthy, and radiant his cousin looked. He watched every move she made — how she untied the ribbons under her chin, how she removed her bonnet with one hand and patted her hair with the other, how she turned the bonnet slowly in her hands as they stood talking. Edmund marveled that the others in the room did not seem to notice her unstudied perfection; he envied James Prescott the smile on Fanny’s lips, without quite knowing why he did.
Henry Crawford watched rather absently as his brandy glass was refilled — was it the second time or the sixty-fourth? He neither knew nor cared as he stared at a vague reflection of himself in the glass. A month ago, he would not have recognized himself, but he had gradually grown accustomed to the image that mocked him in every mirror. For the first time in his selfish, indulged life, Henry knew the meaning of regret. Every morning when he opened his eyes, he remembered that he had thrown away Fanny Price for Maria Rushworth, whom he despised. He hated the stubborn pride in himself that had led him to pursue Maria, and by that folly to ruin his chances with the woman he loved.
Henry took another drink of brandy and exhaled deeply. He dreaded going home alone; the steady noise of the bar was a blessing compared to the silence that allowed him to think even more, but he didn’t want to drink himself into an oblivion either. He abhorred self-pity, and fought actively against it. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a handful of money — he had no idea how much — and laid it on the counter.
“Crawford, you’re not leaving already, eh?” asked his neighbor, slapping him heartily on the shoulder.
Another man spoke up. “Bet you a fiver he’s got more entertaining company waiting.”
Henry forced a smile, and for a moment the dashing Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park could be detected, but he disappeared just as quickly. “G’night, boys,” he said in the most light-hearted voice he could manage.
He knew that he was walking down the street in a straight line, and he knew he was thinking clearly. He must not have drunk much. The afternoon’s rainfall still shone on the ground, and the street was dark. As he walked down Hill Street, Henry studied the stars reflected in the puddles, and as he sloshed through them, he watched as the tiny lights scattered into blurry sparkles. He reached the door of his uncle’s house and walked in without greeting anyone; his only purpose was to find his room and then his bed.
On many other nights, he would have gone to visit Mary in Westminster, but this evening she was off dancing at another one of her insipid balls. There was a time when Henry loved to attend parties and dances, for not many a young man dislikes the sensation of pretty girls breaking their hearts over him — and so the girls did over Henry. Half of London cried into their pillows every night that Henry Crawford went to a ball and left with his heart and his money unengaged. Let it not be surmised that Fanny Price had turned Henry into such a saint that he no longer enjoyed flattery and flirtation, for he never ceased to appreciate these pleasures; he had simply come to realize that the praise of some people was to be valued over the praise of others — and London was filled only with “others.”
Anna Prescott did not go to Mansfield Park, having already promised to visit with her cousin Emma Scott. Anna and Emma had once been very close; Emma was the only daughter of Anna’s uncle and aunt, Sir Howard and Lady Prescott of Oak Hill. They lived within two miles of each other and were born in the same year, and these circumstances seeming favorable, had grown up the best of friends. After the passing of ten years, it became evident that Emma was more like her cousin Martha in her tendency to be rather stupid. This was unfortunate, as Sir Howard and Lady Prescott were widely regarded for their sense and wit, as was their only son Stephen, the special friend of James and Charis. Anna had kept up a daily acquaintance with Emma, however, until the latter’s marriage to Peter Scott, a respected London attorney who joined the ranks of men who do not realize at the time with whom they vow to spend their lives.
Tonight Anna would find herself dragged unwillingly to yet another ball, for Emma loved balls very nearly as much as she loved spending her husband’s money on clothes and jewelry. Anna could not like London, which seemed to her as a never-ending ball, where she was forced to socialize with people she cared nothing about. The balls at home were entirely different affairs — they were rare and special occasions which never failed to excite the anticipation of the good friends who would meet each other there. Anna turned her head to the side and patted her hair, admiring the work her maid had done, then faced the mirror directly again and stared at her reflection.
“Are you ready, Anna?” came the voice of her cousin from the hall.
“Yes!” she called back, picking up her fan as she hurried out of the room.
Emma Scott stood at the door and held her husband’s arm. “Come along, Cousin!” she said gaily when she saw Anna. “Tell me truthfully now: am I wearing the right necklace?”
“I could not suggest a better,” Anna replied, without glancing to see what she had approved of.
The carriage was filled, the horses whipped, and the ball arrived at much too soon. Anna held back a sigh as she followed the Scotts into yet another ballroom. They all looked the same to her now. Anna placed herself in a comfortable position that afforded her a good view of everyone, and was prepared to sit there most of the evening, for though she was tired of balls, Anna always loved to watch the dances.
No one ever approached her on these occasions, for she knew no one and had not the beauty which may be depended on to make young men friendly, nor the look of extravagant wealth which could attract young women seeking to raise their own importance by being seen with her. Tonight, though, she was startled by a hand on her shoulder. “Pardon me. Do you mind if we sit here?”
Anna looked up into the face of a beautiful young woman with a lively countenance and unhappy eyes. “Not at all,” she replied.
The girl thanked her and motioned to another older woman, and they sat down together. Anna expected that they would politely ignore each other, but the girl soon leaned over and asked, “How are you this evening? I don’t believe we’ve met — I’m Mary Crawford.”
“Anna Prescott. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Crawford.”
“And this is my sister, Mrs. Grant.”
“Do you live in London, Miss Crawford?” Anna asked her.
“Yes, I live here with my sister,” she replied. “And you?”
“I am staying with a cousin,” said Anna. “My home is in Derbyshire.”
“Ah! that is beautiful country, though I speak with the experience of only one brief visit. I take the liberty of declaring myself an expert on the subject, however, and my verdict stands.” She laughed and went on, “Now I do not mean to sit here all night as if I were not a desirable partner. I must have a dance.”
“Patience, patience,” said Mrs. Grant, who could not imagine any young man thinking her sister an undesirable partner.
“Do not scold me — you know I’m not serious.” Mary turned to Anna and addressed her again. “How long have you been in town with your cousin?”
“Only two weeks.”
“And do you like London? I myself cannot live apart from it for long. I have such a gay time that I believe I could not live anywhere else.”
“Really? I prefer the country,” said Anna frankly. “The society is limited, to be sure, and parties are rare, but I do think it is a singular pleasure to meet with one’s old friends on special occasions — much more to be preferred than going out every night to stand among strangers with nothing to say.”
Mary laughed. “You are conversing with me well enough, and consider: you would not have the pleasure of my company if you had stayed at home. Now do not mistake me — I love the country very well indeed — but one grows so hopelessly bored of the same people.” She sighed. “I must have a dance. This is unbearable.” Mary was obliged to sit only another moment before her wish was granted, and smiling, she stood up to dance with a handsome, amiable-looking gentleman.
As Anna watched Mary join the set, she could not help but wonder about her, and later pulled Emma aside to point her out. “What do you know about that lady, Mary Crawford?”
Emma laughed. “How is it possible that you know nothing of Mary Crawford? Everyone loves her, for she is quite charming and very wealthy. Tell me, Anna, do you honestly think I wore the right necklace tonight?”
“Is that all you know?” Anna pressed, entirely disregarding the questionable jewelry.
“She has a brother named Henry, but no one speaks of him anymore.” Emma reached up and twisted her necklace lazily with two fingers.
“What has he done?”
Emma’s face betrayed all the pleasure one can feel in relating a scandal. “I don’t know any details, but common knowledge has it that he ran off with a married woman, a Mrs. Rushworth, once one of the Miss Bertrams of Mansfield Park.”
“Mansfield Park! Bertram!” exclaimed Anna. Tom had never mentioned — but of course he hadn’t. “Are you certain?”
“Quite. I also heard that he killed the lady’s husband and stole a great deal of money, but all of that, I am not sure I can believe. Do you not think it a little too sensational?”
Anna smiled. “Yes, a little.”
“I am afraid that this dress calls for pearls. How could I not have worn them?”
“Lay the blame on me for not pointing it out to you before we left, and let the subject be.”
“If you insist. But now that I think on it, you should have told me to wear the pearls, when I asked you before.”
Only a few more moments passed before Anna found an excuse to leave her cousin, and she returned to her seat, finding that Mary was back as well. “Miss Prescott! I was just asking my sister where you had run off to. Do you not mean to dance?”
“If I am asked, I will certainly not decline,” Anna replied as she sat down.
Mary laughed prettily. “Oh, I cannot be so passive about it. If you really long for a dance, you must pick out some gentleman from the crowd — one who looks rich and stupid — and give him a look which says, ‘I am worthy to spend your money.’”
Anna laughed and was grateful for Mary’s conversation, and the ball passed quickly for her, much to her relief. She was asked to dance twice and found both of her partners pleasant. To further her happiness, she was invited to have tea with Mary Crawford the following afternoon, and so left the ball in the highest spirits, even agreeing to Emma’s suggestion that they exchange necklaces for the carriage ride home. “Now, if only my hair . . .” were the last words Anna heard from her cousin before she was lost in her own reflections.
The next day, Anna arrived at Mary Crawford’s home as planned, and was met with the greatest alacrity. Mary lived on a fashionable street in London in a fine house, which seemed faultless until one came closer and was able to see the tiny cracks in the molding. The house served as an honorable residence for a young lady of taste, and its owner seemed well-pleased to welcome guests there. Anna, the polite visitor, was “so pleased to be there!” and her hostess “even more so, I assure you!”
Mary led Anna to the small sitting room and after seeing her comfortably seated, asked, “I hope you will not mind if a third party joins us?”
“Not at all; I would be glad to see your sister again,” Anna replied good-naturedly.
Mary laughed. “Not my sister — no, no — my brother, Henry. He lives in town with my uncle the Admiral, you see, when he is away from his estate in Norfolk, and I thought it would not be unpleasant for him to join us, for he is usually quite amusing.”
Anna hardly knew what to think about meeting Henry Crawford; Emma had told her such terrible things about him! On the other hand, it would be unjust not to give him a fair chance, especially based on Emma’s account. “Your brother?” she repeated rather stupidly.
“Yes. If you object, though” (lowering her voice) “I will understand. I know what people say about him.” She did not seem about to contest or confirm the accuracy of the rumors.
“I would be glad to meet him,” said Anna.
“Wonderful!” Mary replied, visibly relieved. “He’s been such a dreadful bore lately, without any of his old charm, and I thought it would be good for him to talk to someone besides himself. Let me summon him.” Mary left her alone for only a minute before she returned with the much talked-of Henry.
As Anna rose to meet him, she was surprised to find that he was not especially good-looking. After all, it is generally understood that a young man of ill-repute is also handsome; otherwise he would not be so inspirational. Perhaps a truer smile, or a little life in his eyes, might have rendered his face more pleasing, though his demeanor and presence she found immediately attractive, and there could be no complaint with his figure. For his part, Henry merely surmised that the visitor was nothing to Fanny Price — nor was anyone he met, so this was no significantly critical reflection.
“Henry, this is my new friend Miss Anna Prescott. Miss Prescott, my brother Henry Crawford.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Prescott,” said Henry with the best smile he could muster.
“The pleasure is all mine, sir,” Anna replied, judging from his expression that this was so.
Mary seemed — or tried — not to notice Henry’s evident desire to be somewhere else; they sat down and she worked valiantly to keep up the conversation. “I met Miss Prescott at the Allens’ ball last night, Henry; now see what interesting acquaintances you miss by shutting yourself up at home?” Henry had no comment on the absence of interesting acquaintances in his life, so Mary turned to Anna. “Tell me more about your family — are they at home in Derbyshire?”
“My parents are at our home, yes, though my brother and sisters were here with me, for a time.”
“And who are they?”
“James and Charis Prescott, and Mrs. Martha Cooke.”
Mary furrowed her brows. “The names are not familiar. Henry?” He shook his head, and Mary returned to Anna. “Did they share your negative opinion of London, having left already?”
“Quite the contrary — they enjoyed themselves much more than I can. Martha and her husband live in town, you see, and they invited us to stay with them.”
“How is it that they are gone, while you are still here?”
“A new acquaintance invited the five of us (I include Mr. Cooke) to join him when he went home again. My brother and sisters were eager to accept his offer, as we all had become quite fond of him.” Anna carefully avoided speaking the name of Tom Bertram, for the comfort of both her hosts.
“But you chose not to go?”
“I had already promised my cousin a visit, and I was therefore unable to join them. My cousin is Emma Scott; do you know her?”
“Oh yes, I have spoken with Mrs. Scott on numerous occasions. I must say, if you will pardon my taking the liberty, that Mrs. Scott and I do not share the same opinions on many subjects, so that most of our conversations are limited to the weather and our dresses.”
“Mostly to the latter, I would imagine,” Anna smiled. “I do not have much in common with my cousin, and understand your meaning, Miss Crawford.”
Mary turned to Henry. “Have you nothing to say at all, Henry? You are not very amusing this morning.” He did not reply. “Miss Prescott, you must forgive him. I don’t know what has come over him. Tell me about the friend who invited you to his home; perhaps I know him.”
Anna thought it best to say it quickly and then try to move on once it was out; there was also the reasonable chance that Emma had been mistaken. “A Mr. Tom Bertram.”
Emma had been correct, however — this, at last, succeeded in provoking a response from Henry, though it came not in words, but in the surprised and pained expression on his face. Both brother and sister colored, and Mary cleared her throat. “T-Tom Bertram. Yes, ah . . . Henry and I are familiar with that family.” She tried to laugh. “Are we not, Henry? We actually had a rather lengthy stay there, Miss Prescott, for my sister’s late husband had the living at Mansfield parsonage.”
“Your brother and sisters are at Mansfield Park now, then?” asked Henry, unable to contain the curiosity that accompanied his awkwardness. He coveted every minute this girl’s family sat in a room with Fanny.
“Yes, they are there still.” Anna quickly decided on a safe topic; the mention of a mutual acquaintance might relieve some of their discomfort. “In fact, I received a letter from my brother just this morning. There is one young lady there whom he praises to the skies — are either of you familiar with a Miss Price?”
Anna immediately realized that she had increased their tension. Mary looked down at her lap, and Henry’s face changed from red to white. “Fanny Price.” Mary spoke the name with some puzzling mixture of reverence and bitterness. “Yes, your Tom Bertram’s young cousin from Portsmouth. We did have some conversations with her on several occasions. I believe anyone who knew her would praise her to the skies.” Mary then changed her tone dramatically and smiled broadly, “I am such a silly wretch! I have not offered you any tea, Miss Prescott.”
Before Anna could reply, Henry said in a carefully steady voice, “Excuse me,” and rose from his seat. “I hope to see you again soon, Miss Prescott — and I hope you will not be offended if a sudden headache forces me away from your company?”
Henry bowed and left the room and passed Mrs. Grant in the hall as he took quick strides towards the front door. “Henry?” she called after him, but he shut the door decidedly behind him. He would have a little brandy.
For her part, Anna felt wretched as she bid farewell to Mary an hour later. She had caused both sister and brother pain, and had succeeded in driving the latter away. As Emma welcomed her back with a pressing question about hat trimmings, Anna knew it would be remarkable if the Crawfords ever sought her company again.
Fanny heard a knock on her door and looked up from her writing-desk. “Come in,” she said, laying down her pen. As soon as breakfast ended, she had accepted an invitation from James to ride into the village that afternoon, and had then retreated to her room to be alone for a while. She had grown increasingly fond of James, and looked forward to every opportunity to speak to him.
The door’s opening, however, gave her Edmund, who was no less an agreeable visitor. “Good morning, Fanny. You look well. I hope I am not interrupting you — what were you writing?”
“A letter to William.”
“I should have known. I still remember the day I found you crying and helped you write your little letter to William.”
Fanny smiled at the memory. “You gave me paper — even ruled the lines for me — and I thought it something remarkable that you would have my uncle pay the postage. Did I ever tell you, Edmund, that it was that gesture of kindness which first made me think I could be happy here?”
“Nonsense! — do you mean it?” Edmund asked, secretly most gratified at the idea.
“Of course I do.” She ventured nothing else, apparently waiting for him to tell her what had prompted this visit.
“Will you accompany me back to Thornton Lacey and stay the afternoon, Fanny?”
“Do you have more books?” she asked. A fortnight ago, she had spent several days assisting Edmund as he reorganized his modest library.
He looked puzzled for a moment. “More books?” He seemed to recollect then, and continued, “No, no. Why should you think so?”
“I can think of no other reason for you to need me there,” she explained, the confession stinging both of them in its different ways.
“I wouldn’t say need, exactly,” he stumbled. “I simply — I only wanted your company.”
Hearing this, Fanny smiled with the most sincere pleasure. “Really? I would be glad to go with you, Edmund. And . . .” Her words trailed off and her smile faded.
“What is it?” he asked anxiously.
“Edmund, I’m sorry! I already promised Mr. Prescott that I would ride with him into the village this afternoon. Perhaps tomorrow?”
“Don’t trouble yourself about it,” he said hurriedly. “It is of no matter. I hope you have an agreeable outing!” With that, he came nearer, touched her shoulder affectionately, and left her alone again.
James straightened his hat and pulled on his gloves as he stood waiting for Fanny. He heard someone descending the stairs and looked up to see only Edmund. He bowed and smiled shyly, for he knew practically nothing of his friend’s younger brother — only that here was his chief rival for Fanny’s affections. .
“Good afternoon, Prescott,” Edmund greeted him. He paused and appeared ready to start a conversation.
“I am rather surprised to see you,” said James. “Were you not intending to leave after breakfast?”
“I altered my plans,” Edmund explained with a shrug. “I understand that you and Fanny are to go on a little outing this afternoon.”
“Yes,” he replied with a smile. “I am waiting for her now.”
“I have just spoken with her, and I believe she is looking forward to it with pleasure.”
“What a cousin you have there, Bertram, if I may presume to say so.”
“I am never averse to hearing Fanny praised,” said Edmund.
“Then you must agree with me that she is the most excellent of creatures — lovely, good, sensible, talkative . . .”
“Pardon me, I meant it in the best sense,” James said hurriedly, wondering if he had offended Edmund.
“Oh, I have no doubt of that,” Edmund assured him. “I was only surprised that you would use that word to describe Fanny.”
“I confess, you must know her better than I, after ten years.”
“I should.” For a moment Edmund studied the wallpaper over James’ left shoulder, then both men turned at the voice of Fanny herself.
“Edmund! You are still here!” she exclaimed, smiling at him.
He bowed. “I was just leaving, Fanny. Enjoy your outing!” With that, he went abruptly away. Edmund was slowly realizing the foolish mistakes he had made, and repented of them each time he saw Fanny look with admiration at James Prescott.
Fanny followed him with disappointed eyes until she heard James speaking to her. “You surprised us both, Miss Price. Your step is so light, we didn’t even hear you coming down the stairs. Are you ready to leave?” he asked, offering his arm.
Fanny checked to make sure that her bonnet was secure, then took his arm. They went outside, and James helped her up into his barouche; Fanny thought of the visit to Sotherton all those months ago, when both Maria and Julia had wanted to sit up in the box by Henry Crawford.
“Tell me about your cousin Edmund,” James suggested as they rode along. Fanny was finding the outing thoroughly enjoyable, and had been sitting in reflective silence for some time as she watched the warm summer countryside roll by.
“He lives at Thornton Lacey, as I believe you are aware, for though the Mansfield living was to be his, he chose the other. What specifically did you want to know?”
“The question was not so much out of interest in your cousin; I wanted to hear you talking again.”
“Oh.” Fanny blushed deeply and turned back to sightseeing.
Anna reclined comfortably on a sofa in the sitting room, quite content with the stillness and silence as she read her book. Emma sat nearby, pinning flowers on a bonnet; no other occupation could have kept her as quiet. Anna was disturbed from her reading (and Emma from her matter of Great Importance) by the entrance of the housekeeper to announce a visitor.
“If you please, Miss Prescott, there is a young man here to see you.”
Anna marked her place and laid her book aside. “Did he give his name?”
“Henry Crawford, ma’am.”
Anna gave no outward sign of her surprise, though she was quite unnerved by such an expected visit. “You may show him into the library, Cassy.”
After the girl had curtsied and left, Emma laid down her blooming bonnet and whispered, “Henry Crawford! Why are you seeing him, of all people? Did I not warn you about him the other night, Anna?”
“I have no idea why he came here, for I met him only yesterday when I had tea with Mary Crawford, and I did not invite him to visit.”
“Do be careful, Anna,” warned Emma in a solemn tone that made Anna want to laugh out loud.
“Thank you, Emma, I will,” she managed with a straight face.
Anna left the room and walked to the library, where Henry Crawford stood waiting. He met her with a polite bow, but had nothing to say. She wondered why he should come at all, but greeted him as she would any guest. “Good afternoon, Mr. Crawford.” He answered only with a brief nod. “Will you sit down?” Anna offered as she took a chair, and he followed her example. She would say nothing else; he must have some reason for calling on her, and the conversation was his to begin.
“I realize how strange my coming here must seem to you, Miss Prescott,” Henry said at last.
“I confess that I am quite at a loss,” Anna told him. Why, indeed, would a man visit a woman with whom he could not rally his spirits and interest enough to speak the morning before?
“I will not waste your time by avoiding the subject. The truth is, I have a request to make of you . . . a request which will seem a trifle odd. You mentioned yesterday that your brother has befriended a Miss Price.”
“Yes,” Anna replied, surprised that he would choose to introduce a topic so close to Mansfield Park and the Bertram family.
“While I was visiting . . .” He stopped for a moment and cleared his throat. “I was once friends with Miss Price — to such an extent, in fact, that I am still very much interested in her welfare. My request to you, Miss Prescott, is that you let me know how Fa — ah, Miss Price — is faring, whenever your brother should write about her.”
Anna turned this speech over in her mind for some minutes. It was so peculiar; it gave her a powerful feeling that something, perhaps many somethings, had remained unsaid. Even so, she reasoned, what harm could be done in occasionally informing Mr. Crawford that his Miss Price was “well”?
“Certainly, Mr. Crawford, though I am rather bewildered.”
“Understandably so. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to you, Miss Prescott.” He rose, bowed, and seemed about to leave, but Anna would not let him go so easily.
She stood to face him and said boldly, “Perhaps you could thank me by joining the conversation next time I visit your sister.”
Henry looked surprised, but could not contain a smile. “Were you not satisfied with my contributions to the discussion yesterday?”
“Did you make any contributions, Mr. Crawford?” she returned.
“I believe I sighed a few times — I am sure I did — were you not paying attention?”
She returned his smile. “You will hear of Miss Price at any time I have something to relate — but only if you convince me henceforth that you enjoy my company.”
Henry bowed again. “We speak in jests, Miss Prescott, but I admit that I was abominably rude to you yesterday, and now offer you my sincere apology.” He left her then, and Anna returned in much confusion to Emma, who seemed relieved to find that her cousin seemed as virtuous as she had before. Henry, meanwhile, walked happily home with the knowledge that he had found some way to hear about Fanny.
That evening the party at Mansfield received word from Edmund that he would have his supper at Thornton Lacey. Fanny often cast a forlorn glance at his empty chair during the meal, though no one else seemed to notice his absence. “I, for one, do not miss him,” Susan whispered to her at one point.
After they had eaten, Sir Thomas, Lady Bertram, and the Cookes decided to play cards, Susan settled on going to bed as the best relief of her boredom, and Tom mentioned that there was a particular book he wished to show Charis in the library. James and Fanny were therefore left to themselves once again, a situation which neither disliked. They were both merrier than usual, remembering their drive into the village, for it had been a wonderful day. Together they had wandered in and out of shops, and even stopped for a small picnic on the way home.
Fanny was happier than she ever had been before. For the first time in her life, someone was doing things purely for her. Her wishes were his only consideration and he genuinely enjoyed her company. To Fanny, James was a perfect mixture of Edmund and Henry, possessing one quality which neither of them had ever seemed to understand. He treated her as a person equal to him; she was not the frail cousin who must be protected and guided; the young lady whom he must stubbornly pursue; the helpful little niece; the constant irritation who dared to want a fire in her room; the inferior cousin who knew nothing of the principal rivers in Russia. James treated her as William always had.
When they sat down together, he began the conversation by asking her to tell him more about the Bertrams — besides Tom and Edmund, did they have any other children?
“Yes,” she replied, “but Sir Thomas will see neither of them. He has two daughters, Maria Rushworth and Julia Yates.”
“He won’t see them?” James repeated. “What could they possibly have done?”
“Pardon me, Mr. Prescott, but I do not feel comfortable telling you; it is not my place.”
“Forgive me, Miss Price. You are perfectly right; it was rude of me to inquire. I was just so shocked to hear of a father’s refusing to see his own daughters; one does not hear much of that sort of thing. Maria Rushworth and Julia Yates. Maria Ru — oh! I know about one of them. Indeed, I believe everyone in London knows about her. But tell me, where are these daughters now?”
“Maria lives with my Aunt Norris, and our two households do not communicate.” Fanny almost cringed at the recollection of Mrs. Norris, the woman who had so terrorized her childhood and youth. However, she tried to remind herself, were it not for Mrs. Norris, she would never have come to Mansfield Park. “Julia is now living in town, I believe.”
“Is she? My sister Anna is in town. I do wish you could have met her, Miss Price. I have never been as close to her as I am to Charis, perhaps because Charis and I are nearer in age. But Anna is a fine girl, very like you in some ways. You would like her.”
Edmund, meanwhile, ate his light supper alone, then went to his library to think — and there was much thinking to be done. He thought of Mary Crawford, and how he had been completely taken in by her beauty and charm, gradually allowing himself to look over her every fault. She had never been the right woman for him; why could he only just now realize that? And to be fair, he was entirely the wrong man for her. Yet he had wasted so many months trying to win her, trying to convince her that he deserved her. Fanny, he realized, knew all the time that it was Mary who did not deserve him.
Having thought of Fanny, Edmund could not stop himself from dwelling on her. Looking back, he could now see and appreciate the quiet strength of Fanny Price. She grew up with two girls who looked down on her and mocked her, who treated her as they would a servant. Yet she was the one who remained still at Mansfield Park, rewarded by her own integrity. She was the pride of her uncle and the comfort of her aunt; time and again she had proved herself their daughter and their anchor. From the time she came to them, Fanny was hurt and suppressed by Mrs. Norris. She was the pawn, the scapegoat, the whipping-boy — whichever role Mrs. Norris desired her to fill at the time — yet Mrs. Norris would spend the rest of her life in poverty, devoting herself to a selfish young woman who would never love her for it. But Fanny was resilient, and Sir Thomas now sought her advice. Fanny was the only one of them who recognized the faults of the Crawfords; nothing escaped her quiet, perceptive wisdom. In fact, in her quiet observance, she knew the worst in them all. Fanny knew what Maria was and knew that Julia was so starved for attention and affection that she would risk her reputation to marry the first man who provided them. She perceived the secret viciousness of Mary Crawford and saw into the mind of Henry Crawford when everyone else — even her own William — was fooled. Edmund could not leave out his own wrongs. All the time, Fanny had seen his blind self-righteousness and watched him sacrifice his principles on the altar of pleasing Mary Crawford. She had borne all his condescension. He knew he had always behaved towards Fanny with the best intentions, and would never consciously hurt her, but everything he had ever done now seemed backwards and misguided. Nothing, however, was more amazing to him than the simple fact that despite everything, Fanny loved all of them.
As he turned these thoughts over and over in his mind that evening, Edmund was finally able to see that Fanny Price was not his fragile cousin — she was a woman in whom strength and gentleness were united into unaffected goodness. He was no longer confused; on the contrary, his thoughts were very clear now — his love for Fanny was something entirely different from what it had been before.
“Anna, I have good news for you! There is to be another ball tonight!” Emma gushed at breakfast. “You will come with us, won’t you dear?” she asked, turning to her husband.
“Perhaps,” Peter mumbled.
“Of course you will. You have nothing else to do,” Emma reasoned (I flatter her). “It is to be on ------ Street at 9:00, and oh! I cannot wait to tell Mrs. Craig about what Mrs. Hardy told me! I thought at first that I would be unable to go, for I have been lately occupied with my new bonnet, but I may spare the time this evening for such a ball as this is to be.”
“Are you certain, darling?” Peter asked. “Have you not more cauliflower and pheasants to attach to your bonnet?”
“Oh, you do talk nonsense! Pheasants, indeed! It is a flower hat, all roses and such. When it is completed at last, I dare say it will be the envy of every woman in London.”
“Fancy that,” he muttered, spearing another sausage with his fork.
“Mr. Scott, you do not appreciate what is involved — the colors to be considered, the arrangement to be settled upon! It might astonish you.”
“You mistake me; I would not be astonished at the degree of your mental exertions.”
Emma looked well-pleased. “You flatter me.”
“Indeed, I do not,” he assured her.
Emma turned to Anna, who had been listening to this exchange with the greatest amusement. “Is he not the best of men, Anna darling?”
“Certainly,” she replied, smiling at Peter.
They were interrupted when Cassy came in with a message for Anna. Cassy left, and Anna turned over the envelope, which bore in a pretty feminine hand, “Miss Anna Prescott.” She opened the letter, and her eyes fell on the signature of Mary Crawford at the end. It consisted of only a few lines — the substance being that Mary had enjoyed having tea with her, etc. and hoped to see her at the ball that night.
“Well?” asked Emma impatiently. “Don’t keep me in suspense.”
“It is only a polite little note from Miss Crawford,” Anna explained as she slipped the letter back into its envelope. “I shall see her tonight.”
“Anna, dearest, as your cousin and your friend, I must advise you to be more careful. Consider the reputation of these Crawfords! If certain people were to notice you much in company with them, I fear the social consequences, for I have seen many a young lady cast out of fashionable society.”
“You told me two nights ago that everyone loves Miss Crawford. Besides, what should I care about banishment from London society?” was Anna’s calm reply.
“She is not the problem so much as the brother. And indeed, you should care. You cannot be so heedless, Anna, and expect to be married to anyone respectable.”
“No respectable man would avoid me because I associate with the Crawfords.”
Emma shook her head. “You don’t understand what consequences can come of the smallest . . .”
“My dear,” Peter broke in. “Our previous conversation has made me wonder: do you design your bonnets yourself, or do you look at patterns?”
“Patterns! Oh, how can you be so ridiculous!”
Much to Anna’s satisfaction and relief, Peter had succeeded in launching Emma on a long speech — such as required no responses — about her particular creative genius; all they need do now was ignore her and finish their breakfast.
After his recent revelation, Edmund felt that he could not wait long to speak to Fanny, and rode to Mansfield Park the next day, watching for any opportunity to have her to himself. His efforts were soon rewarded when Fanny approached him and expressed a wish to walk with him in the garden. That she should choose his company above the persistent James Prescott’s was a good sign indeed, and Edmund hoped that she would have him, despite everything. He turned to study her as they walked and wondered how he could have overlooked her for so long. “You look happy, Fanny,” he said.
“More than I have ever been,” she said warmly. How could she not be, she mused, with the friendship of Mr. Prescott and the daily companionship of Edmund?
Edmund instantly wondered if James Prescott could be the reason for Fanny’s happiness, then just as quickly pushed his rival from his mind. “It makes me happy on your behalf,” he told her. Her only response was a blush, and he continued, “You still owe me an afternoon at Thornton Lacey, you know.”
“You still wish me to visit?”
“Why, Fanny, of course! My library may be finished, but can you really think that I invited you to Thornton Lacey only to help me? The library is fine indeed, but would be nothing without your company during its making. We both know that I am a blind fool, but am I so hopeless as that?”
“A blind fool? Edmund, how can you say so?”
“How could I not say so? You see, Fanny, I am only admitting what you have always known.” She made no answer, but Edmund stopped and took one of her hands. “Fanny?”
She met his gaze evenly. “What do you want me to tell you, Edmund?” she asked.
“Every criticism you have ever wanted to tell me.”
Fanny jerked her hand away. “Why should you care now?”
Who that knows anything of Fanny’s history and character to this point would not have shared Edmund’s baffled expression and inability to put together a coherent sentence? “What . . .? I . . .” the poor man stumbled.
“You have never valued my opinion, Edmund.” Her tone was not at all angry, but the sadness in her voice was much worse.
“What? But I asked your advice on countless occasions, Fanny. Surely you must remember?”
“But did it ever matter?” she asked quietly. “Did it really matter, Edmund, what I thought when Mary Crawford took my horse, or when you decided to act in the play, or when you left me alone at Sotherton, or when I watched you surrender your strongest convictions one by one?”
Even as she spoke the words, Fanny was barely conscious of what she was saying, except that this was the outpouring of years of frustration and hurt, and that it felt uncommonly good. Who can blame Edmund for standing there stunned and immobile as Fanny buried her face in her hands and started walking back towards the house?
“Fanny, wait!” he cried, returning to his senses. She would not turn around, and only started walking faster. “Fanny!” he called again. Edmund ran to catch up with her. “Will you not stop?” he pleaded, walking beside her.
She gave another sob and shook her head. “Please leave me be.”
“Then I shall speak to you like this.”
“Fanny, you were perfectly right. All those things you said . . . they were perfectly right. Except one. Shall I tell you what it is?” Fanny gave no response one way or the other, so Edmund continued. “When you said that I don’t care. That I have no regard for what you think. I have often done a frightful job of showing it, Fanny, but I care a great deal about what you think. I could hardly blame you if you choose not to believe me, but I do entreat you to give credit to my words.”
“You must pay no mind to what I said. I reacted hastily and wrongly with words I should not have spoken.”
“Nonsense, Fanny! No truer words were ever spoken!”
“I did not mean them.”
He took her hand and finally she stopped walking, though her eyes were still on the ground. “You meant every word, Fanny.”
After a long pause, Fanny turned to face him. “I did.”
Edmund couldn’t help smiling. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Fanny returned his smile and shook her head.
Still holding her hand, he led her to a little bench. When they sat down, he gave her his handkerchief, and waited as she dried her eyes. “Now, Fanny,” he said, “I want you to tell me what you think.”
“Because it matters to me more than anything in the world. We’ll start at the beginning. Tell me about Mary and your horse, and be as brutal as you can be.”
“I was very hurt that you would allow her to keep my horse for so long, leaving me to the unkindness of Aunt Norris. It was very . . . very selfish and inconsiderate.”
“Perfectly true. Fanny, I am sorry for allowing my selfishness to hurt you in any way. Now the play.”
“This is very unpleasant to me, Edmund, and it hardly matters now,” she protested.
“It matters a great deal, Fanny.”
Fanny sighed. “It was wrong of you to give up your principles so easily. It would have been better for you to say directly that you wanted to participate, than to disguise your motives under the pretense of supervision. You knew what was due to your father, and you had no regard for it.”
“You are right. I’m sorry.”
This time Fanny went on without his encouragement. “It was very wrong of you to leave me alone in the gardens at Sotherton, when you and Miss Crawford went away for so long. It was most inconsiderate of you, and hurt me deeply.” He nodded his acknowledgment and she went on. “When you urged me to wear Mary’s chain instead of yours, and had her feelings in mind more than you did mine . . . I did not want to wear it, but I did it for you. I wish I had not.”
“So do I. Go on, Fanny.”
“All those months you blindly ignored the faults in Miss Crawford, gradually forgetting your own dearest beliefs. She . . . she made a fool of you, Edmund.” He was silent, and his face was grave. Fanny felt that she had hurt him deeply and said, “Forgive me. I have said enough.”
“No, no, I asked you to say these things.” Edmund was not troubled about the past — he knew his wrongs — he could now think only of the present. His faults were so numerous, how could Fanny ever come to love him? She deserved a good man like James Prescott. He allowed himself to hope, however, when she spoke again:
“But Edmund, it is only fair that I also make sure you understand the things you did right.” He looked up at her, and she smiled at him reassuringly. “The fact that I had a horse — that was your doing. You were the reason I was able to go to Sotherton in the first place. It was kind and thoughtful of you to buy me a chain that I could wear with William’s cross. And though you believed I should marry Mr. Crawford, it was from a sincere wish for my happiness, and you took my part with your father. All the countless times you defended me — you must see that all of these kindnesses make your wrongs entirely unimportant to me.”
“Do you mean it?”
“Of course, Edmund. No one else cared about me enough to pay me the attentions you did; don’t you know that you were my only friend? I could not have borne it here without you.”
“I’m glad that these grievances are no longer between us, Fanny. From now on, I expect you to say openly, ‘Edmund, you are a fool.’” He prayed that she would never have an occasion to speak so, now that he realized her importance to him. Fanny only laughed. “Promise me!” he insisted, smiling himself.
“Edmund, you are a fool,” she replied.
“Quite so, Fanny, quite so. You know my faults perhaps better than I know them myself, and you see people for what they are.” He fixed his eyes on her and took her hand again. What better moment than this, after he had confessed and been forgiven, to tell her what she really meant to him? “Will it come as a surprise to you, then, Fanny, to discover that I love you?”
Evidently it did. She blushed deeply and looked away from him. “Edmund, don’t say that to me.”
She closed her eyes in confusion. There had been a time when these words . . .! Now, however, she felt that she could not give him the “yes” they both wanted to hear. Fanny wasn’t sure how she felt about Mr. Prescott, she had been hurt by the brief affair between Edmund and Mary, and Henry still nagged at her thoughts occasionally. “You are almost like a brother to me, Edmund,” she finally managed. She hardly knew what sentences tumbled out. “We have always been friends. You are rather like a guardian to me.” The words were wrong — all wrong!
He released her hand and bowed his head. Taking it all into consideration, how could she see him as anything other than a guardian or a brother? “I understand. Now would be a most opportune time to say, ‘Edmund, you are a fool,’ would it not?”
“Oh, no, Edmund! Don’t say that!” she cried in consternation.
“Forgive me,” he mumbled without meeting her eyes.
Fanny remained motionless on the bench as she watched Edmund walk away from her. She was painfully aware of how much she had hurt him, but there was no other choice. She loved him — of course she did! She always had. But . . .
“Are you unwell, Miss Price?”
Startled, Fanny looked up into the concerned face of James Prescott, the source of her simultaneous confusion and comfort. She realized how she must appear to him, with tears still streaming down her face. James sat down next to her. “Shall I help you into the house?” he offered.
“No, thank you.”
“What is the matter? Can you tell me?”
“Nothing is . . . nothing is wrong. I was just speaking with Edmund, that is all.”
James had watched the end of the unhappy scene as he approached them, and knew he was correct in supposing the nature of their conversation. Despite his sympathy for the two of them, he could not contain a feeling of elation — he might have Fanny Price for himself! “I know the two of you are close,” he remarked, attempting to make her think of more pleasant things. Not knowing what other response to make, Fanny merely nodded, and James continued. “He’s practically another brother to you.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps, yes — a brother.”
“Two cousins growing up together . . . yes, and I have seen the way he protects you. You could want no other guardian.” He wanted to emphasize to her that her love for Edmund was of a different nature than the love she would feel — might feel already — for him.
She flinched as he used the word which had just hurt Edmund so deeply. “True.”
“Why,” James went on cheerfully, “I would venture to say that he’s as good as another William! Do you not agree?”
Another William? Could this really be the nature of her love for Edmund? The idea sounded reasonable to her, and she resolved to give it her special consideration.
“Perhaps a brief walk would refresh you, Miss Price,” James suggested, rising to his feet and offering his arm. He was not one to miss a perfect opportunity of recommending himself.
Anna’s mornings in London grew to be something of a tiresome routine. She and Peter sat at the table and ate in silence while Emma rattled on about inconsequential matters. This morning’s broad topic was the ball of the night before, and Anna employed the time to think of other things, as Emma’s speeches rarely required more than an “Indeed!” if they required any response at all.
“So I told Mrs. Henley, ‘My dear girl, what can you be thinking?’ And she said, ‘I find daisies rather charming, and I am sure I never asked your opinion, Mrs. Scott.’ You can imagine what I felt, Anna. Yes, I can see your offense at the remark. Only imagine how I took it! For I am a woman of greater sensibility than yourself. I held my temper in check, however, and replied in the most cordial way, ‘Mrs. Henley, I am sure that for you, any flower would be rather charming.’ It was the most civil remark I could think to make at the time, and I meant it in the best way, but she seemed rather miffed. She dropped a stiff little curtsy and went on her way. And I turned to Miss Crawford — her brother was occupied with you at the time, Anna — and said, ‘Have you ever seen such rude behavior, my dear Miss Crawford?’ And she replied, ‘Indeed I have not, Mrs. Scott.’ Now there! Wasn’t that a nice reply for her to make? I always told you she was a sweet, pretty girl. If it were not for her brother, I can only think that we should be the best of friends. I think Miss Crawford is . . .”
“Dear, did you chance to call on Mrs. Stafford?” Peter Scott broke in.
“Indeed I did. She still looks very ill. Her doctor claims that she is improving remarkably, but I am sure that I see none of it. Were I in the medical profession, I should make things quite different.”
“I imagine you would,” said he. “Was Mr. Stafford in?”
“No, thank heaven, for I quite detest him. He had the nerve, one night at a ball . . . oh! just to think of it makes me angry! ‘Mrs. Scott,’ he said to me . . .”
“Pardon me,” said Cassy, coming into the dining room. “There is a caller for Miss Prescott.”
Anna looked up, relieved. Her head felt particularly achy, and even Peter’s ironic insertions could not entertain her this morning. If the caller was the one she expected, this would be an even more welcome excuse to leave the table. Emma paused from her tirade against Mr. Stafford to instruct Anna. “If it is Miss Crawford, Anna, pray give her my very warmest regards. If it is anyone else, wish her a good day.”
Anna laid her napkin down on the table and followed Cassy out of the room. When the door was shut behind them, she exhaled deeply. “Good heavens,” she murmured, and Cassy smothered a giggle with her hand. Anna learned from Cassy that her caller was indeed Henry Crawford, and that he was waiting for her in the sitting room. She reached into her pocket and pressed some coins into Cassy’s hand. “For your discretion,” she said. “I should never hear the end of it otherwise.” Emma was well aware that Henry called on her cousin, but Anna knew that if she realized how often these visits took place, the lectures would never cease. Anna took a quick glance at herself as she passed a mirror, then entered the sitting room.
Henry removed his hat and bowed. “How do you do, Miss Prescott?”
“I am very well, thank you, sir. Will you sit down?” she asked as she took her own advice.
Henry sat and studied her as she picked up her sewing. Every time he met with her, she seemed less and less plain. Her figure was pleasing, and her smile most becoming. “Have you heard from your brother since last I called?” he asked.
“I have indeed,” she answered. “Everything is well at Mansfield. He informs me that my sister will soon, in all probability, be engaged to Mr. Bertram.”
“I am happy to hear it. Tom is an excellent fellow. And does your brother write of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, or Edmund? And Miss Price — what has he to say about Miss Price?” He cared not a straw for anyone but Fanny, but felt that he must mention the others.
“Much of the latter,” Anna smiled. She knew where his real interest lay, and was not one to waste words.
“Really.” Henry should have felt jealous, and was surprised that he did not. Besides, he reasoned, how could he hear about Fanny if James Prescott did not write much of her?
Anna realized that Henry might enjoy some particularly good news about his friend, and a letter from James that morning had provided her with the intelligence to provide it. “Since you are such a good friend of Miss Price, I would suppose that you especially will be glad to hear my brother’s news.”
Henry guessed what the news would be, and prayed that he was wrong. He had found the loss of Fanny to be somewhat bearable, as long as he knew that no other man would have her. Selfish, certainly, but Henry had never flattered himself to be otherwise. “Pray tell me the good news at once, Miss Prescott,” he said with forced levity.
“Nothing is quite definite yet, of course,” she replied, “but my brother confides to me that he is quite in love with Miss Price, and intends to propose to your friend within the next day or two — as soon as he has an opportunity.”
“I see.” The news was neither good nor bad, but Henry knew that soon it must be bad, with both Edmund and this James Prescott pursuing Fanny. Henry tilted his head to the side and studied Anna. “How much longer will you stay with your friends in town, Miss Prescott?”
“I hope that my time here is nearly done. I have been sitting ‘like patience on a monument,’ longing to be home again.”
Henry smiled at her. He stayed much longer than he had intended, and did not completely comprehend, as he walked home, that he was thinking not of Fanny’s possible engagement, but of Anna.
Susan Price sighed as she set her sewing down in her lap and looked around the room in boredom. Only Fanny and her aunt were in the sitting room with her, the former reading and the latter occupied chiefly with breathing. Pug jumped off the lap of his mistress and went to Susan, who scooped him up and began scratching his ears.
“Fanny,” said Lady Bertram, wakened by Pug’s desertion.
“I do not wish to trouble you, my dear, but . . . I do need your help.”
Susan gave a wry smile to her sister, but Fanny was looking at their aunt. “No trouble. What is it?”
“Pug left a few hairs on my dress here, you see.”
Brush them off! Susan cried in her mind. But she knew that Fanny would say no such thing. Susan dreaded the day that Fanny left, for then she herself would have to wait on her insufferable aunt.
“I see,” said Fanny. She left her seat, brushed off the dress, and sat down again.
“Thank you, dear. You are so good to me.”
The door creaked open, and Pug wiggled away from Susan to return to Lady Bertram. A servant entered with a message for Fanny, and Susan watched as her sister thanked the messenger, looked at the envelope, and colored.
“And who sends you a message, Fanny?” asked Lady Bertram.
“It is from Edmund, ma’am,” she replied as she opened it. “I am sure . . . he must need more help with his library . . . I believe.” Susan estimated it to be not much more than a note, judging by how quickly Fanny read it. It said, in fact:
My dear Fanny, forgive me for so unsettling you two days ago. I hope to make you amends. Will you join me this afternoon at Thornton Lacey? You did promise me an afternoon here, and we shall be as we were before. I sent my carriage to accompany this note, and hope you will take advantage of it. Yours very truly &tc.
“Yes,” Fanny continued in a voice Susan strained to hear. “His library.”
Lady Bertram smiled. “Go to him, then, Fanny. You have not been to Thornton Lacey in several days, and I suppose I might spare you this afternoon, as I have dear Susan here with me.”
Oh dear, thought that generous niece.
The door opened again, and Susan looked up to see who was joining them this time, hoping that it would be someone more interesting than a servant. Her hopes were answered when James Prescott appeared, for he was a man she liked very much, and she was pleased to notice his constant attentions to Fanny. Perhaps now Fanny would leave off adoring that pitiful Edmund so much, and attach herself to a man who deserved her! Susan was very gratified at the thought.
“Good morning, Lady Bertram, Miss Price, Miss Susan Price,” he greeted them.
“Please join us, Mr. Prescott,” said Lady Bertram. Pug gave a little bark and Susan stifled a giggle.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he replied with a bow, “but I was just going out for a turn in the garden. Perhaps Miss Price would join me?” Susan smiled broadly as Fanny set aside her book and walked out with Mr. Prescott.
“It is a fine morning,” Lady Bertram commented when they had gone. “Were I not so busy here, I should venture out myself.”
Fanny stopped James out in the hall. “Forgive me, sir. I am just now going to Thornton Lacey to visit Edmund.”
“I see. Another time, then — but would you not like some company on the way to Thornton Lacey? Let me take you in my barouche, for there is something — something very particular — I want to tell you.”
Fanny was too distracted to realize his meaning. “At any other time, Mr. Prescott, I would appreciate your company, but Edmund has already sent his carriage for me, and my head is so full right now that I would rather go alone, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” he said with a bow. James watched her, frustrated, as she walked away from him. Now that he had decided to declare himself to her, every minute seemed wasted — especially these minutes, in which she was going to Edmund!
The day was beautiful, and the eight-mile ride was pleasant, but Fanny could not enjoy herself as much as she normally would, so occupied was her mind. What could she say to Edmund? Her fears were unfounded, however, for Edmund came out to meet her with a friendly smile, talking to her as if nothing had happened. Had she known the extent of his effort to mask his hurt with nonchalant chatter, she would have been proud indeed.
“I hope that my aunt was not too disturbed by your leaving. But then, she is rarely disturbed by anything,” Edmund rattled on as they walked into the house.
“Susan is with her,” Fanny said.
Edmund laughed. “Poor Susan. She was not made to spend her time waiting on a dozing aunt. And how she despises me.”
“Don’t tell me, Fanny, that you don’t know it. And who can say that she isn’t correct in her opinions? But enough of that. I want to show you the library, and how fine it looks now.”
Edmund played his part well, and Fanny was both puzzled and grateful — and, it must be confessed, her feminine heart was a little disappointed — to find him behaving towards her as he always had. Fanny returned to Mansfield Park even more confused than she was upon leaving. She found her aunt still in the sitting room, though Susan had evidently found an excuse to make her escape. Mrs. Cooke had joined Lady Bertram, though, and they were dutifully taking care of each other’s needs. Fanny went to her place by the window and sat down.
“Dear, are you unwell?” asked Lady Bertram, noticing Fanny’s pale face. “I fear all this excessive activity has knocked you up.”
“No, Aunt,” Fanny replied.
“But you must have been gone for four hours, at least! Such a space of time standing and walking and riding about! Fanny, my dear, do consider more carefully next time.”
“Indeed,” contributed Martha Cooke, “my younger sister — you remember her, Lady Bertram, Anna? — yes, well, she had an acquaintance whose cousin’s dearest friend caught an ill wind during a drive, and she passed from this world no later than that same evening!”
“No!” said Lady Bertram.
“You cannot fail to heed the warning of such a dreadful story, Fanny.” Lady Bertram shook her head, as if she had already resigned herself to Fanny's tragic end.
In fact, there would be much more for Lady Bertram to resign herself to. The large group gathered for dinner, which was not as lively as it had been recently. James and Charis were exceptionally quiet, owing to a letter which they had just received from their father. Mr. and Mrs. Cooke were the same as always — silent and hungry. Edmund would not remove his eyes from his plate, and Lady Bertram was much satisfied that her son was so involved with his food. He sat across the table from Fanny, and she could not keep herself from looking at him frequently. Had she imagined the words they spoke the other day? At one point, she even dropped her fork clumsily on the table, and Edmund raised his head to meet her gaze for only a moment, then just as quickly returned to examining his meal.
“Well, why so quiet?” asked Tom cheerfully, lifting his wine glass. “Everyone is abominably dull this evening. I demand some conversation.”
“One should not be too prone to talking when one is eating,” said Lady Bertram placidly. “It cannot be good for digestion.”
Apparently unconcerned with this medical advice, Tom went on, “Mr. Prescott, say something interesting for us!”
James glanced at Charis, who gave him a slight nod. “The fact is,” he explained, "I have something very interesting to say. We must all leave you soon.”
This sparked enough conversation and noise to satisfy even Tom, and Lady Bertram momentarily set aside her concerns to say what she thought. “Goodness,” was her contribution.
“Now, Prescott, what can you mean by this?” exclaimed Tom.
Charis answered for her brother, smiling sweetly at Tom. “Sir, our father writes that our mother is ill.”
Here James cleared his throat and stifled a laugh, drawing the stares of everyone present. “Pardon me,” he said quickly. “I, ah . . . I choked.” James was quite familiar with his mother’s way of using her health as an excuse to effect anything she desired.
“You must eat more slowly, James,” instructed Martha Cooke.
“Our mother is ill, and desires us to be with her,” Charis finished.
“There is no other option, sir,” said James. “And actually, this sudden departure is really not so bad. We considered taking along some guests to Oakbridge. Perhaps some at Mansfield Park would appreciate a change of air and scenery.”
Several countenances lifted at this announcement.
“A fine plan,” said Sir Thomas. “Do remove some of these young upstarts from my hands, Mr. Prescott.”
“I will do it with the greatest pleasure, sir, I assure you — but in order to convey our friends, we would have to ask you to provide another carriage.”
“Certainly, certainly. I have a carriage to spare, so no worries on that point. Who would you take to Derbyshire with you?”
“Well,” said James, looking around the table, “the two Mr. Bertrams, of course.” He let his eyes linger on Fanny. “And Miss Price.”
Fanny tilted her head a little to her right, where Susan sat looking dejectedly into her lap. Charis watched the exchange and took the hint. “Perhaps also Miss Susan Price, if she would join us,” she said. Susan lifted her head to reveal a wide smile, and Fanny gave Charis a small nod of appreciation.
“But I cannot do without Susan,” said Lady Bertram, almost agitated. “What could I possibly do without Susan?”
No one spoke for a long time, for indeed, who else could there be? Finally, Fanny offered, “Let me stay with you, Aunt, and Susan may go to Oakbridge in my place.”
“Very well, Fanny,” Lady Bertram agreed, blissfully unaware that she had broken more than one man’s heart.
Edmund looked again at Fanny. He suspected that she was becoming attached to James Prescott; why should she be denied a trip which could only afford her the greatest pleasure — in more than one respect? He had been foolish enough to disregard her until it was too late, but he still had the power to seek her happiness. He would lose Fanny, but she would not lose James Prescott.
“Would I not do as well for you, Mother?” he asked. “Let both of my cousins go, and I will stay and see to your needs.”
Lady Bertram looked over at Edmund. “You would do just as well, Edmund, but you are always at Thornton Lacey.”
“I will stay in my old room here — it will not be such an inconvenience, for just a little while. Besides, I would not have to leave the church in the hands of Mr. Harris if I stayed here. Indeed, my not going to Derbyshire is the best plan.”
Sir Thomas desired to save both his son and his niece, and thus said — “I am inclined to think that you could do without all our young people for such a short period of time, my dear. You will always have Chapman.”
“I suppose it is so, if you say it is, Sir Thomas,” replied Lady Bertram. “But I shall be very much put out.”
The matter was then settled, and the merry group would leave Mansfield in two days.
Anna’s journey to Derbyshire would be twice as long from London, especially considering that she would have to travel by post-chaise. Peter Scott could not spare his barouche, and no one else could convey her. Anna knew that her mother was not ill, but was not averse to leaving the Scotts’ home, for Emma’s stupidity had begun to be unbearable. She only regretted leaving the Crawfords, whose good company had made her stay so much more pleasant.
“Anna, you cannot be leaving me already!” Emma wailed. She watched as her cousin packed, too grief-stricken to offer her help.
“This is just as unexpected to me,” said Anna patiently. “When my mother summons, we go.”
“Then James, Charis, and Martha will be leaving Mansfield?”
“Yes. They may have left already. Will you hand me that white muslin there?”
Emma reached for the gown with one hand, and with the other pressed her handkerchief to her face. “What can your father possibly want that is important enough to tear you away from me?”
“It is my mother,” Anna said calmly. “She is rather like Martha, you understand, and . . .” Anna hesitated and briefly studied her sniffling cousin. “Well, you wouldn't understand. My mother has decided that she is ill, and desires her children at home to be with her in her final hours.”
“Her final hours!” This prompted another wave of tears. “Oh, my poor, dear Aunt Caroline!”
Anna realized that Emma had taken her dry humor in the most serious manner, and quickly added, “The doctor has seen her, and has the highest hopes.”
“But she will die, I know she will! I can feel these things, Anna.”
“But of course. Will you get that wool for me?”
“Anna! How can you ask me to get a dress when my heart is utterly breaking?”
Anna sighed and went for the dress herself. “True, how very insensitive of me, Emma.”
“Dear Aunt Caroline,” murmured Emma reflectively as she sat down on the bed. “My fondest memory of her is the day she came up to Oak Hill and . . . oh! It pains me too much to recall it. Have my parents called on her?”
“My father writes nothing of them, though I am sure that Lady Prescott, at least, has called.”
“And my brother?”
“No word about Stephen.”
“My heart is breaking. I shall go and visit Mrs. Sidney, for she has some new evening gloves ready for me. You have no need of my help here, do you?” she asked, shutting the door behind her.
“No, thank you,” said Anna to the empty room.
Emma’s departure to Mrs. Sidney’s was fortunate, for not five minutes later, Henry Crawford had come to call. He knew nothing of Anna’s sudden departure, and was not much pleased at the prospect, though he managed to express his concern for her mother’s health. “When do you leave?” he asked her.
“Tomorrow morning, and that is not a minute too soon.”
Henry smiled. “Is London company not equal to your tastes?”
“In general, no,” she replied.
“And who is coming here to take you home?”
“No one — it is too far.”
“You are traveling by hack post, then?”
“Unacceptable.” Henry paused a moment; she had been so kind to him, providing him with news of Fanny — could he not do her one favor in return? “Allow me to take you home in my barouche, Miss Prescott. I am sure I could convince Mary to come, and we would be such a merry party. The journey would seem shortened by half.”
Anna could not refuse a comfortable carriage and good conversation when she thought about her only other option. Had she known, however, that at home she would find the Bertrams and the Price sisters, she may have reconsidered her eagerness for the Crawfords’ company.
Henry, meanwhile, went home to inform Mary that she was traveling with them. He went into her house without knocking, said a brief “hello” to his older sister, and found Mary reading quietly in the parlor. “How would you like to take a trip, Mary, and get away from all this blasted fog?”
“What on earth are you talking about, Henry?”
“Anna Prescott is going home to Derbyshire, and I have offered to take her there in my barouche. She would have to travel post otherwise, and I won’t have it. You must come with us, you see, or it won’t be proper.”
Mary laughed. “When did you start to care about propriety, Henry? Besides, I am perfectly comfortable where I am, and have no desire to spend this evening packing a trunk, and tomorrow being jolted and shaken halfway across the country. Miss Prescott is a charming girl, but I don’t see why you should go to such lengths to help her. Can no one else convey her? Consider the expense.”
“You know I never consider expense,” Henry smiled. “And why should I not do a favor for a friend?”
“You’ve never done it before.”
“Nonsense. I introduced William Price to the Admiral and succeeded in bringing about his promotion.”
“Let me rephrase — you’ve never done favors unless they benefit your own interests.”
“Quite true, Mary, and perhaps my usual motives guide me in this case as well; I should consider the company and gratitude of Miss Prescott as a benefit to my own interests.”
At length and after much coaxing and pleading, Mary agreed to Henry’s impulsive plan. Emma Scott, upon hearing Anna’s plan to travel home with the Crawfords, was much dismayed. She made several long speeches, occasionally punctuated with her husband’s ineffective attempts to distract her, about the impropriety of traveling in a carriage with Henry Crawford, and suggested the terrible possibility that the carriage might be overturned, and Anna stranded with them for who knows how long! Anna was not to be swayed by fear of these evils, however, and left with the Crawfords at midnight.
Oakbridge was a very respectable estate, though many a baronet would turn his nose at it, and many a young lady look for another elder brother to chase after, if her reasons for matrimony were less than noble. The grounds were left to their natural beauty, without that molding of shrubbery and clearing of trees which one sees so often in country estates, and without which improvers would be obligated to find other, more worthwhile, employment. The house itself, however, was new and fitted up as would become the end of any artificial lane lined with sculpted bushes; its design did not fit its surroundings.
Upon arriving home, Anna was greeted by her brother and sisters, who had been watching for her all day. Her extreme weariness from the long journey and her happiness in seeing them prevented her from noticing the four handsome young people standing behind them, who, along with the Crawfords, were more than a little uneasy when the latter stepped out of the carriage. Only when James moved to introduce their guests did Anna notice Tom Bertram, realize what was taking place, and look quickly back at Mary and Henry to see confused looks on their faces. She turned back to James and tried to smile, curtsying as he introduced Tom’s younger brother and two cousins.
Anna found Edmund very fine-looking, though he struck her as quiet and reserved; she decided that Susan was an active, healthy girl, and could think only of the word “lovely” when she saw Fanny. To the latter she paid special attention, as that young woman held two claims to her interest. James had written lines and lines in her praise, including words about his own attachment to her. Henry Crawford came every other day to learn how she fared, though sometimes lately he forgot to inquire directly. She did not have long to study them, however, for she had to introduce the Crawfords.
Fanny had gone white to her lips, and only stared at the newcomers in wide-eyed anxiety as they waited to be introduced to James and Charis. Edmund colored and looked first to Fanny, then down at the ground. Mary had paled and fixed her eyes determinedly on the Prescotts, while Henry stared at Fanny.
“I . . .” Anna stammered. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Mr. and Miss Crawford, my sister Charis and my brother James. And . . . the rest of you, I believe, know each other.”
Despite her confusion, Fanny could not stop herself from studying Henry. What a change in him — so much that she had not known him immediately. In Portsmouth he was tanned, vibrant, healthy; now he was thin, drawn, and somewhat unshaven. Hardly the same man!
The awkwardness was unbearable to Susan; the Crawfords just stood there uncomfortably, Fanny and Edmund were quiet and pale, Anna seemed embarrassed, and poor James and Charis simply looked confused. Susan knew everything about the Crawfords, but felt that someone ought to say something.
“How do you do, Mr. Crawford?” she began. Henry seemed completely taken aback by her greeting. “It has been a long time since we last met in Portsmouth.” She could not fail to notice, from the corner of her eye, that Anna had settled into a somewhat more relieved posture.
“Indeed it has, Miss Susan Price,” he replied, still surprised. “I hear that you too now live at Mansfield Park.”
“Well, I say we go inside!” James announced. “We’ve been standing out here long enough. I trust the Crawfords would like to join us after their long journey?”
“Thank you, Mr. Prescott,” said Mary, at last finding her usually prominent voice.
They went inside and sat down in the parlor, the Mansfield group and the Crawfords safely across the room from one another. Mary and Henry sat rather stiffly and avoided the eyes of the two ashen cousins.
“Allow me to say what a pleasure it is to meet you both,” said Charis warmly, oblivious to the tension in the room. “Thank you for bringing Anna home.”
“Your sister proved herself a valuable companion to us in London, Miss Prescott, and we could only return the favor by escorting her home,” Mary answered her, becoming more and more relaxed.
Fanny felt paralyzed. Henry Crawford sat once again in the same room with her, challenging her with his bold, steady gaze. She could not, however, bring herself to glance at Mary. Was she unnerved because Mary was evil, or because Mary was really not so evil? Because Mary was so different, or because Mary was what she secretly wished to be? What crime in ready wit, what sin in endless vitality and sparkle? Was Mary's selfishness any worse than her own self-righteousness? Mary was a frustrating riddle; Fanny understood her so much that nothing about her made sense. In one way, Fanny was frightened, for there was something that she shared with Mary Crawford, something that made both of them fall in love with Edmund Bertram, yet she had not the faintest notion what it could be.
Edmund would not look at Henry Crawford, the man who ruined his sister and almost convinced Fanny to make the mistake of marrying him. And what if she had married him, following the bad advice of everyone she knew — including himself? It was unbearable to think about how close he came to losing Fanny. He still might, he reminded himself, bitterly remembering James Prescott. As for Mary Crawford, he glanced at her pretty face, and regretted only that he had wasted valuable time which could have been spent with Fanny.
Henry and Mary left Oakbridge an hour later and rode into Lambton, where they found a cheap and comfortable inn. Mary was still shaken from their sudden meeting with Edmund and Fanny, though at the time she had managed to converse easily with Charis and James. She found them charming and sensible and wished that circumstances could allow her to befriend them. Tomorrow would see her back in London, though, and she knew it was best to leave.
Henry, however, seemed to think otherwise — “Mary,” he asked her later, “what do you say to staying on a while? We have nothing else to do.”
“Can you be serious, Henry?”
“Of course. Don’t you like the Prescotts a great deal?”
“Yes, but . . . Fanny and Edmund! After all that has passed between our families, we should leave them alone. Surely you must know that.”
“Why? Because the two of us have somehow managed to make their lives miserable.”
“But I love Fanny.”
“Nonsense,” Mary said.
“I hardly believed it then, and you certainly cannot make me believe it now, Henry Crawford.”
“It matters little what you believe, Mary. I cannot bear for Fanny Price to think ill of me. I want to see her again, perhaps talk to her and tell her . . .”
“She would think much better of you if you went back to London where you belong, and left her alone. Come to your senses — we must forget about them, and they will surely want to forget about us.”
“Did you see the way Fanny was looking at me?”
“The way she avoided looking at you? Yes, I did.”
Henry heaved a great sigh and flopped into the nearest chair. “You could see that Mr. Prescott again,” he said with a grin.
“Who? Oh . . .” Mary blushed. “Why would I want to see him again?”
“No particular reason.” Henry gave an expression of innocence and pretended to examine his fingernails.
“And what about his sister?” she asked, not to be outdone.
“I confess I like her very much, though she is rather plain.”
“Plain! How can you . . . oh, you speak of Anna — I was referring to Charis.”
“Henry, you must know that we cannot stay here.”
“This is a nice little inn, and there is nothing for me in London. You may choose to go back, but I will stay here.”
“You will do nothing of the kind! Henry, if you really cared about Fanny Price, you would let her alone and leave her for . . . for . . . you know.”
“You can't even say it, can you?” he asked.
“How ridiculous of you! Of course I can: Edmund.”
“It agitates you that you lost him to her.” Henry draped his arms comfortably on the arms of the chair.
“What? Lost him to whom?”
“Nonsense. He had never thought of her before we parted ways.” Mary began fidgeting with a seam on her dress. Did Edmund really love Fanny? Naturally, Mary had often suspected it during their gatherings, but she always pushed the thought from her mind. The idea of timid Fanny Price being her rival was simply ridiculous.
“You think so?”
“I know it is so,” Mary replied confidently.
“Interesting. And grossly mistaken.”
“Henry, what do you mean?” cried Mary, becoming more and more uncomfortable. “He was in love with me!”
Henry shook his head and gave a tiny smile. “He was in love with Fanny.” She had no response, and he added, “And it infuriates you.”
“You are out of your head today, Henry. Are you drunk again?”
“Could you even bear to notice the way he looked at her this evening?”
“Stop it, Henry.”
“And she loves him — always did. I was too idiotic and self-absorbed to know it.”
“I want nothing more to do with you.” With that, Mary stood up briskly from her chair and lifted her head with all the confidence she had left.
Henry reached out and took her wrist. “Stay here with me. Chase after Edmund, chase after Prescott — whichever suits your fancy. Chase after both! But stay with me.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“Months ago I determined to win the heart of Fanny Price, and I have not given up yet.”
“But you just said she loves Edmund! That you were self-absorbed and idiotic!”
“I never claimed to have changed, did I? No, Mary. I will have Fanny Price, and I will stay here with or without you.”
She stood there quietly for a long time before she finally said, “With me.”
Mr. and Mrs. Prescott welcomed their children and their guests with great alacrity. Mrs. Prescott, whose supposed illness brought her children home, seemed to have recovered admirably, and her manners were relaxed and affectionate. Fanny could see the good looks of James and Charis in her face. Mr. Prescott was tall and rather fine-looking. He soon showed himself to be a sensible man, despite his choice of a wife, and spoke with good humor.
“We have quite a treat for our guests this morning,” James announced at breakfast. “We are going to visit the Darcys.”
“Capital,” said Tom. He sipped from his glass, then inquired, “Who?”
“They are our good friends,” Anna explained. “Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy of Pemberley. Fifteen years older than we are, perhaps, but such good company!”
Susan did not like the sound of spending her day with old people; had not she come on this trip to escape her Aunt Bertram? When the group left for Pemberley after breakfast, therefore, Susan politely declined. Anna drew her aside and attempted to persuade her to join them, but it was no use.
Stephen Prescott had come from Oak Hill to welcome his cousins, and to greet the newcomers. He was very good-looking and very young, not more than twenty. One would have found it difficult to believe that he could be the brother of Emma Scott, for he was all sense and charm. When he was shown in, his cousins had already left, though his uncle came to greet him. “Stephen, I fear no one is here to entertain you this morning.”
“Is everyone gone, then?” he asked, disappointed.
“Yes, off to Pemberley. No, wait — the little girl stayed behind — the younger Miss Price. What’s her name? Susan.”
“I shall find her, then,” Stephen said cheerfully. “A little girl’s company is better than no company.” Upon finding Susan Price, however, Stephen was very glad to see that she was not a little girl.
The sitting room was empty later that afternoon, and Fanny settled herself into a chair by the window, enjoying the quiet. However, in a house filled with so many, one could not expect her solitude to continue long uninterrupted, and within five minutes, James Prescott joined her. “Miss Price!” he greeted her cheerfully. “How did you like Pemberley?”
“It was wonderful,” she replied, feeling that she could not exaggerate her delight.
“I see you share my opinion,” said James with a smile, dropping lazily onto the sofa. “Charis and I visit often. What do you think of the Darcys, apart from their estate?” he asked with a wink. “For many people form their opinions of others based on the extent of the grounds, or the elegance of the furniture, or the cost of the silver.”
“I think very well of them — especially Mrs. Darcy.”
James laughed. “I see Mrs. Darcy has cast her spell on you too, Miss Price. Mr. Darcy could not escape it, nor has anyone in Derbyshire since her arrival. It is plain that you liked them a great deal.”
“I did. A very great deal.”
James stood up rather abruptly. “I must remember why I sought you out. Charis and I are going into Lambton, and I was sent to invite you to join us. She will be wondering what has kept me so long.”
Just as he finished his statement, Charis herself entered with Edmund at her side. “James, you have taken an eternity! Has he even extended the invitation to you yet, Miss Price?”
“Just this minute,” replied Fanny, “but I think you should forgive him. We were talking about Pemberley.”
Charis smiled. “Now there is a topic worthy enough to delay anyone who has the privilege of being acquainted with it. Did you like Mrs. Darcy? And Mr. Darcy? Is he not the handsomest, most dignified man you have ever seen?”
“No more of these raptures,” said James, before Fanny could reply. “I can bear the sighing and swooning of females for only so long before my good humor runs out — unless, of course, they are swooning over me, in which case they may continue as long as they like. Mr. Bertram, has my sister persuaded you to come with us?”
“She has indeed,” Edmund replied. He turned to Fanny and studied her face. “Will you come, Fanny?”
“If the three of you don't mind, I would like to stay here. A little time of quiet would greatly suit me.”
They left her and climbed gaily into the carriage. As they rode into the village, Edmund wondered in disappointment why Fanny had not joined them. He had seen so much less of her since they left Mansfield Park. Was she avoiding him despite his attempts to be her familiar comrade once again? Edmund was shaken from these thoughts by a sudden exclamation from Charis — “Oh, look! The Crawfords!”
Edmund flinched as his eyes rested on Henry and Mary strolling idly down the street. Thinking them safely back in London, he found this a very unpleasant surprise. James called out to them, “Mr. Crawford! Miss Crawford!”
Henry and Mary looked in their direction and approached the carriage with broad smiles. They could not bring themselves to speak to Edmund, but with the Prescotts, they were all animation. The conversation was brief; they exchanged the requisite “How are you?“ and “Lovely weather this afternoon, is it not?” before the interlude was, in Edmund’s opinion, mercifully over.
There were others who must be surprised that the Crawfords were still in Lambton. Anna rode her horse into the village the next morning, wishing to inquire after some fabrics she’d heard a friend mention. She found the seller and bought a great many yards of his material, and started on her way home very satisfied with her purchase. Having no reason to believe that the Crawfords were anywhere but in London, she was much surprised when Henry greeted her as she started on her way home.
“Miss Prescott!” he exclaimed, slowing his horse to walk beside hers.
She could not disguise her pleasure in seeing him again, nor could she explain her fascination with him, but she could not think his presence was appropriate under the circumstances. “Mr. Crawford! What brings you here?” she asked.
“I’m afraid I share your opinion of London, and I had no desire to go back immediately,” Henry replied. “Mary has come with me also. Perhaps you could come and visit us sometime.”
“We have been much occupied with our guests at home. Perhaps . . . that is, how long do you intend to stay?”
“On the weather? On the economy?” said Anna archly.
Henry smiled. “May I ride home with you?”
“Mr. Crawford, I fear that in consideration of our guests . . .” She stopped, assuming he knew her meaning.
“If that is your only scruple, you need not be anxious. They will not see me — I won’t go in.”
“Shall we be honest with one another, sir? I flatter myself that you consider me a friend worthy of hearing the truth, and I hope it is not too much to ask. Why did you stay here?”
“I want to show Fanny Price that I am not as bad as she thinks me to be.”
“Are you?” she challenged.
“I have been. But I am changed.”
“How does your staying here prove that, sir? It seems to demonstrate an assumption quite the opposite.” Anna was uncomfortable, and a little frightened, of the serious turn of their conversation, but she could not prevent herself from confronting him.
“You ask difficult questions,” Henry smiled, studying her profile. “They deserve frank answers. My staying here does not prove that, Miss Prescott.”
“Now let me be frank, Mr. Crawford. I don’t know what happened between you and Miss Price, nor do I care to. However, I do believe that you can change, and that leaving here is the first step in effecting it.”
“I must stay because I am a weaker person than you imagine.”
“No, sir — your weakness is quite evident, and that is why I advise you to leave.”
“Pray tell me my weakness, Miss Prescott.”
Henry laughed. “Fair enough. But I will not leave until I have convinced Fanny Price that I am changed.”
Anna shook her head. “Then you are not changed. Do you mean to sound this foolish on purpose, sir, or can it be possible that a sensible man such as yourself is not aware of it?” Anna lowered her head immediately. “Forgive me. That was unkind.”
Henry could not — did not try — to be angry with her; her words were too true for contradiction. In the absence of anger, he could feel only fascination and regard. “I hope I am never averse to hearing the truth,” he replied. “Do not apologize.”
“When one faces a friend, sir, truth is a much more difficult business, for you have not the comfort of easily reconciling yourself to a stranger’s bad opinion.” She paused a moment, then continued cautiously. “If you are not averse to hearing the truth, I hope you are also not averse to speaking it. I will be bold and ask — what exactly are your feelings for Miss Price?”
“Is it not obvious, Miss Prescott? You have an impeccable mind; pray do not do your intuition such discredit.”
“In such cases, I find it safer to make no assumptions, Mr. Crawford, and so I ask you again: what do you feel for Miss Price?”
“I love her.”
Naturally, this was no revelation, and Anna took it steadily. “But you . . .” She felt herself blushing as she stumbled forward. “You went away with a married woman.” What was this new courage which allowed her to reproach a man on such a subject?
“I need not hear any lectures!” he exclaimed. “My own guilt is sufficient.”
"Am I to understand that in spite of these things, you expect her to love you still?"
“Without a doubt. I was determined to have her. I am still.”
Anna was entirely unfamiliar with the anger that moved her to speak. “You must pardon my speaking frankly, Mr. Crawford. You are the most self-absorbed, conceited young man I have ever met. Do you honestly think that you can play a respectable and sensible woman like a puppet? You have been inconstant, you have been selfish, and you have been cruel. On what foundation, may I ask, did you intend Miss Price to build her affection?”
Anna succeeded in what few others had ever accomplished before her: she silenced Henry Crawford. Seeing that he would make no answer, she went on, all the while amazed at her own boldness.
“I am almost ashamed to be speaking to you. Unless you have business with some other member of my family, you may turn your horse and go back to Lambton, or preferably back to London. I want nothing more to do with you, and Miss Price, I am certain, shall find her happiness in someone who deserves her.”
Henry did not wait for a second dismissal, and turned his horse immediately. He rode away determined never to see Anna Prescott again, but with every step towards Lambton, he knew that she was right. She accused him of selfishness and cruelty — were the charges unfounded? He could not flatter himself that she was incorrect. Knowing full well that Fanny Price desired to avoid his company, he had stayed in Derbyshire determined to win back her good opinion — though, he reminded herself, he had never had Fanny’s good opinion. Anna said his motives were foolish and stubborn
. . . and selfish and cruel. She had not spared his feelings with lies; the true words she spoke must make him reflect and deplore his actions. Henry, however, was not ready to address his frustration with himself. A young man accused of selfishness and stubbornness is in a particularly bad position if he wishes to repent, being hindered by the very faults which he hopes to overcome, and not infrequently will hurt others rather than confront himself.
Mary heard Henry come in, and her ready smile was soon replaced with a look of concern. She saw his pale face, but knowing nothing of his encounter with Anna, could not understand the full measure of his discomposure. Had he spoken with Fanny, and had Fanny at last given him that approbation which would allow them to return to London? She stood and waited for the story, good or bad, which he ought to tell her, but he said nothing. She asked him what was wrong, but he only crossed the room and turned his back to her, and still he remained silent. She asked him if he had seen Fanny, and he replied that he had not. “But something else has upset you,” she pressed. “Henry, why don’t you tell me what happened? Did you go to Oakbridge at all?”
Henry would not tell her about his meeting with Anna. Mary might know his failure to win Fanny, but he would never reveal his humiliation by Anna. Why did the latter hurt him so much more deeply? Months ago when he tried to win Fanny at Mansfield Park, he told everyone of his continued pursuit in the face of rejection — if they knew the extent of his struggle, his inevitable victory would be more rewarding. He avoided Mary’s question and replied, “Do you know, I don’t think Fanny has any use for me anymore.”
“Did she ever have any use for you, Henry?”
Henry ignored her remark. “I do believe she will marry that Edmund.”
Mary allowed her feelings to betray themselves on her face, as no one could see her, but she set her shoulders back and stood a little taller. “I would be very happy for them.”
“It seems you will not get Edmund now.” Yes, he could be cruel, and Anna had no idea how much!
Mary took only a few quick strides to face him. “What is wrong with you?” She gave him no opportunity to tell her anything, however, and disappeared behind the nearest door. She went to her small room in the inn, sat on her bed, and wept, holding her slender frame tightly in her arms. She wept for Henry, whom she no longer recognized; she wept for Edmund and for what she had so carelessly thrown away; she wept for the way she had treated Fanny — her mean, selfish motives gilded with a thoughtful front.
Mary was not accustomed to love, either given or received. She had a lukewarm affection for her sister, and loved Henry with all her heart. She never knew her mother, and the aunt who raised her and doted on her — a woman Mary really loved — had died, leaving Mary in the hands of an uncle who hardly looked at her, and actually had his niece sent away so that his mistress could live with him. And she had loved Edmund Bertram, despite her initial plan to win Tom and his fortune. She flirted with Edmund, toyed with his heart, and derided his chosen profession; but in the end, it was she who walked away with a broken heart. Henry’s loss of Fanny Price left him visibly altered, though Mary could not see the effects of his disappointment on his heart; she knew her own pain, however, and was determined that Henry should never sense it.
Since she came with Henry into Derbyshire, she had spent much of her time alone at the inn, and was exhausted with her own miserable thoughts. Mary stood up and walked to a window overlooking the bustling street; she could see her own still reflection mirrored over the lively scene below. She was determined to return to London, and hoped that Henry would come to his senses enough to join her.
James was very happy to be at home again, but restless and frustrated because he wanted to tell Fanny Price what she meant to him — to invite her to stay at Oakbridge for the rest of her life. He grew more and more jealous of Edmund, as he could not help but notice that Fanny’s affections belonged to her cousin. He entered the library and, seeing Anna, inquired after Fanny. “I have not seen Miss Price,” she replied. She seemed somewhat distracted, but James left to continue his search for Fanny. He found her in the sitting room, along with his father, Edmund Bertram, and Susan Price. How lovely Fanny looked! Smiling to each, he quietly settled himself in with them, and realized that he had unwittingly entered a discussion.
“I do not know, Miss Susan,” said his father, “how we can manage such a visit. I am absolutely certain that it will rain tomorrow, and you must not go out by yourself in such conditions.”
“Where does she wish to go?” asked James.
His father waved his hand carelessly. “Lady Prescott invited her to visit with her and Stephen tomorrow.”
“That will be no great loss to you,” James said cheerfully to Susan. “You will have many more opportunities to visit Oak Hill. Certainly you would prefer calling in pleasant weather.”
Susan, however, could not be happy. She had been so excited upon receiving the personal invitation from Oak Hill, and was delighted at the prospect of spending more time with Stephen and Lady Prescott. They were so lively! So charming! Fanny saw and understood her sister’s feelings, and was silently displeased that James went against her.
James would also be displeased with himself, when he realized that he had provided a chance for Edmund to rise even higher in Fanny’s estimation. Edmund volunteered, “If you would be so generous as to lend me a carriage, sir, I would be happy to convey her to Oak Hill.” Susan turned her gaze on him with an expression quite the opposite of the one she usually reserved for him.
“Are you sure?” asked Mr. Prescott. “It would be just as easy for her to wait another day.”
“And the mud on the way to Oak Hill is something incredible,” James added.
“It is no trouble at all, I assure you,” said Edmund.
“Very well,” Mr. Prescott agreed. “You shall have the carriage tomorrow morning.” He pulled out his watch, then rose from his seat. “Please excuse me,” he said. He gave a bow and a smile to his guests, then left the room.
When he had gone, Susan stood up too. “Edmund,” she breathed, “I can never thank you enough!” Twisting her fingers with nervous energy, she went away as well.
“That was very good of you, Mr. Bertram,” said James, swallowing his jealousy. “I would not venture out in all that mud — and neither would you, if you could see it. Then again,” he added, turning to the door as if he could still see Susan there, “to see that young lady so pleased, one would be willing to do almost anything. I shall most likely go to Lambton tomorrow and call on the Crawfords.”
Fanny turned a confused face to James. “What?”
“Didn’t Mr. Bertram tell you? The Crawfords are staying in Lambton.” James wondered why it should matter so much to her, but noticed the questioning looks exchanged between the cousins and removed himself quickly from the room. Once again, he would have to wait to declare himself to Fanny. He was, however, looking forward to visiting the Crawfords — particularly Mary Crawford, who was such a pretty and charming girl.
“Why didn’t you tell me, Edmund?” Fanny asked when James had gone.
“I thought it would upset you unnecessarily, as I didn’t think we would see them at all. Are you angry with me?”
Fanny didn’t reply for some time, and Edmund took it as evidence of her anger, though in fact Fanny was deliberating whether she wanted to forgive the Crawfords at last. Had she ever tried to befriend and help Mary Crawford, rather than think ill of her, perhaps — ! She said, “Edmund, will you take me to Lambton tomorrow when you drive Susan to Oak Hill?”
“I don’t understand, Fanny.”
“I want to visit Mary Crawford.”
Edmund’s face could not have exhibited a fuller measure of shock. “What? Why?”
“I don't know why,” Fanny admitted. “I just want to see her. Please take me, Edmund.”
“But you do not know the inn, or — ”
“It is very simple to inquire,” she insisted. “Please, Edmund.”
“Perhaps if I understood your reasoning for it . . . Fanny, what are you about?”
“I will walk, then,” she declared, tilting her chin a little higher.
“All that way! No, I will drive you. I only wish to comprehend . . . What about Henry?”
“I am not afraid of him. I care nothing about him.” She sighed. “Mary saw something in you, Edmund, that made her love you. And I do believe that she loved you, in her own way.”
“But . . . but what does this have to do with . . .?”
“I only want to see her, Edmund.” Since their first meetings at Mansfield Park, Fanny had tendered a steady and increasing dislike of Mary. She saw nothing but selfishness, conceit, and manipulation. Looking back, however, Fanny realized that behind the musical laughter and gay, carefree conversation, Mary Crawford might well be hurt and unhappy. She was reminded of Mary's uncharacteristic silence when they met again at Oakbridge. At that moment, Fanny felt nothing but the most earnest desire to go to Lambton. What hidden motivation lay within her, she was unable to describe.
Anna had barely noticed when James burst into the library asking about Fanny. She gave some sort of answer, and he was gone the next moment. She thought only of Henry Crawford, and the spiteful things she had said to him, but which of her words were not true? Not one could she take back, nor did she want to. Someone had to say those things to him if he was ever to become the man he could be — the man she believed him to be, despite frequent moments of doubt. Her thoughts would not allow themselves to be sorted through, especially considering the letter she had received that morning from Emma Scott.
My dear, darling girl, you cannot imagine how wretched I am without you! Do you know, Mrs. Cooper told me yesterday that I am pale? I am afraid that will shock you, Anna, but it is true. I believe I was pale. And if not, I was very near being so! I cannot think that a pallid complexion is healthy -- and even if it were, I should not like to have one, as it diminishes one’s beauty to such a horrid extent! You must see how much I am suffering without you. Mr. Scott only shakes his head at me, but I know you will understand. You have always been such a dear friend to me in that respect. Will you come back to me in London? Surely your mother is well by now. I am so relieved that she did not die as we expected!
If you write me some lines, I shall send Mr. Scott for you directly. You cannot know what a state I am in! Do come to me before my youth and vitality are only just a memory! Also, I have got some lace which I do not care for, but perhaps you might. You shall have it if you like, but you must come and see it. I myself think it vile. Yours ever &tc. Emma.
Even upon subsequent readings, Anna was forced to laugh at her cousin in nearly every line. She had to admit, though, that London would be a welcome escape. Even the constant parties and outings she could bear, so long as they pushed Henry Crawford from her thoughts. Besides, she had no real friends in the house. The Bertrams and Prices clearly belonged to James and Charis, which was only natural, as they had become acquainted with each other long before they met her. Anna went to her father to inform him of her decision to go back to the Scotts.
The Cookes left Oakbridge the following morning to return to their estate in Sussex, Anna set off for London, and these departures were soon followed by a less significant one — that of Edmund, Fanny, and Susan to Oak Hill and Lambton. One of the servants happened to know where “Mr. and Miss Crawford, the elegant lady and gent as were here a few evenings ago” had taken their lodgings, saving Fanny the trouble of inquiring in the village. When they arrived at the inn, Edmund left the carriage to help Fanny down, squeezing her hand and smiling at her reassuringly. Fanny stood at the door until the carriage had clattered away, then drew in several calming breaths. She knocked and was welcomed inside, gave her name and asked for Miss Crawford, and nervously untied her bonnet while she stood waiting in the hall.
Five minutes later, she stood before Mary herself, with the bonnet clutched tightly in both hands as though it provided some sort of protection or support. Somewhat comforting was the fact that Mary seemed equally at a loss. “Miss Price! I . . . that is . . . I did not quite expect . . . will you sit down?”
When they had seated themselves, Mary attempted a smile, looked away at the window once or twice, and twisted her fingers in her lap. Fanny was too nervous and uncomfortable even to fidget, and could only clasp her bonnet tighter; she kept her eyes on the floor. Now that she had managed to come here and face Mary, every coherent thought seemed to have abandoned her.
Fanny cleared her throat and managed to look at Mary. “It is good to see you again, Miss Crawford.”
“What?” asked Mary distractedly. “Oh! Thank you! You are looking very well.”
“Thank you.” Fanny now acknowledged to herself that her mind was empty. What to say? Should she remain silent, or open her mouth at the risk of producing gibberish?
Fortunately, she was saved by Mary, who stumbled, “I . . . ah . . . is this about Henry?”
Fanny lifted her head quickly. “Mr. Crawford? Why, not at all.”
Mary continued as though she had prepared an answer for the opposite response. She either had not heard Fanny’s reply, or was not ready with anything else to say. “I told him to leave you alone, but you know how stubborn he can be. Indeed, if it were up to me, we would have gone back to London already . . . but . . . but you know how stubborn he can be.”
Fanny could only cock her head a little to the side and give Mary a bemused look.
Mary looked equally puzzled, then realized that she had given an answer where there was no question. “Did you say that this is not about Henry?”
“No — I mean, yes — I mean, no, it is not about him,” Fanny replied.
“Oh.” Mary managed another discomposed smile. They sat in awkward silence for some time until a genuine smile inched its way across Mary's face, followed by the gay laughter that was so familiar to Fanny. “Is it not terribly funny and shocking that we cannot keep up a conversation?”
Fanny was able to smile a little — here was the Mary she knew. “We are being rather stupid about it,” she said.
At this uncharacteristic remark from Fanny, Mary’s eyes widened in pleasant surprise. She grew more serious, however, and looked down at her fidgety hands. “Why did you come?” she asked, raising her head again.
Fanny forced herself to piece together her thoughts. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Edmund took Susan to Oak Hill this morning, and I asked him to bring me here.”
“Edmund.” Mary paused. “Fanny,” she began again, casting aside her formality, “there are so many things I must tell you.”
“We will not think of those things,” Fanny replied gently. Why had she come? What was she doing? She longed to be at Oak Hill, listening to other people speak.
“Fanny, I insist. Since we last . . . since all those terrible things . . . heavens, my tongue is stupid today.” Mary glanced up at the ceiling and breathed deeply. Her hands stilled. “Please allow me to apologize for both myself and for Henry. Especially for myself.”
“I did not come here for your apologies, Miss Crawford.”
“Please — call me Mary. And you have my apologies all the same.” Mary stood up and paced a little around her chair. “I ask you again, Fanny: why did you come?”
“Yes, Fanny, why did you come?” came a voice accompanied by approaching footsteps. Fanny recognized the voice behind her and closed her eyes, praying for strength and composure. Henry had seen her approach the inn, heard her speaking with Mary, and thanked God for what seemed to be his chance to make things right.
Mary stiffened and addressed her brother in a voice which made Fanny tremble. “Leave this minute, Henry!” She would not have him upsetting Fanny after the latter had paid such an extraordinary visit.
“I only want to see Fanny for one moment,” Henry entreated in a tone that was softer and kinder. He glanced at Fanny and knew that if he only persisted a moment longer, she would hear him.
Mary’s voice hardened. “Miss Price is my guest, and if she chooses not to see you, that is none of your concern — and I certainly wouldn’t blame her!” She sat down and gripped the arms of her chair, looking up at her brother with an angry countenance.
With the greatest sadness, Fanny sat in silence and listened to them argue back and forth. All the time she had disliked them at Mansfield, she had ever acknowledged the steady fondness and friendship between the brother and sister. If they loved anyone more than themselves, they loved each other. What a change was this!
“— is why I want you to leave.” Fanny turned her mind back to the present moment and caught the end of Mary's sentence.
“Perhaps,” Fanny broke in, “I might see your brother for a few minutes?”
The surprise of both Crawfords was made evident by the complete silence following Fanny’s suggestion. Henry was elated, longing for his “few minutes” to show Fanny that he had changed. Mary could only be amazed that timid little Fanny Price would willingly speak to Henry alone after all that had happened between them. At last, Mary sighed, “Very well. Would you prefer to speak to her in private, Henry?”
“Very well.” Mary stood and left the room, closing the door softly behind her. Fanny felt her heart pounding as the door shut and Henry took Mary’s seat. She was able to meet his eyes, and waited for him to begin.
“I shall only keep you for the few minutes you promised me, Fanny,” he said. He ran a hand through his hair and leaned forward. “I want to apologize for being such a beast.” Fanny was struck completely dumb, and could only sit in silence, hoping he would say more. Apologies are easy to make, but Fanny was too sensible to be unable to recognize the sincerity of what he said. What had effected this?
Henry continued, “I am very happy for you and Edmund . . . very happy for Edmund.”
Fanny was prepared to interrupt here — “Edmund and I?”
“And,” he continued, “if you have nothing to say, that is all. Let me fetch Mary.” Henry rose and moved to the door. There was no need to detain her any longer; she had heard his apology, and could make of it what she wished.
“Wait!” Fanny stood up and went to face him. Her own timidity must not prevent him from knowing that she believed him and hoped the best of him. The color rose in her cheeks as he looked down at her. “Thank you, Henry,” she said.
He did not miss her use of his Christian name. He smiled. “Am I forgiven, then?”
Fanny thought only a second and realized that yes, she had forgiven Henry Crawford, and she said as much.
What can be said about Henry’s feelings then? He left the room as Mary brushed past him and shut the door. Fanny Price did not love him, perhaps did not even like him, but she had forgiven him, and nothing else mattered. Yet, Henry thought, something else did matter. At Oakbridge there was a girl who brought about his change — not the “change” he unsuccessfully tried to convince Fanny of all those months ago, not the “change” that brought him to Derbyshire — this change that meant he was forgiven, and that he no longer loved Fanny Price. He knew that he loved Anna Prescott, and with a better, unselfish love than that which he had used to torment Fanny. His happiness was replaced a few minutes later by the miserable realization that because he loved Anna, and because he had truly changed for her, his conscience would force him to offer his hand to another woman.
Fanny did not remain much longer with Mary, though the brief visit had accomplished more than the former ever hoped it would. Upon leaving the inn, Fanny walked slowly towards the place where Edmund had agreed to meet her. This morning it had seemed impossible that she could reach any understanding with Mary Crawford — yet she had made peace with both Mary and Henry. She remained troubled at the apparent discord between brother and sister, however, and wished that they might mend their relationship. Fanny marveled at the change in Henry. He had always been clever, always bright — she had acknowledged these traits even when she steadily refused his proposals all those months ago. Had he finally focused a small part of his intelligence onto his own character, and found it wanting?
Edmund arrived half an hour later, and Fanny immediately noticed that he sat alone. “Edmund,” she asked as he helped her step in, “where is Susan?”
“She is at Oak Hill. She was having a delightful time, but I felt that I couldn’t leave you any longer — I could not join them for tea while you might be wishing yourself far away from Lambton.” He smiled at her and pressed her hand. “What happened?”
“I saw Miss Crawford, and she was quite kind. She apologized to me for some of the things that happened. We had not been speaking long when Mr. Crawford came in.”
“My dear Fanny, how long have you been waiting for me here? I wish I had come to you sooner.”
“No, no, Edmund. I spoke to Mr. Crawford for some time, and then again with his sister. I have not been waiting here long at all.”
Edmund frowned. “I knew that you should never have come here. Did he force you to hear him?”
“No — I did willingly. He asked my forgiveness, and we parted on very good terms.”
After several moments of uncomfortable silence, Edmund replied, “I know your sweet and generous nature, Fanny. You must have been very easy to work on. There are others who would be more loathe to hear his pleas.”
“Did you consider my sister? When Henry bowed and spoke so charmingly, did you think of Maria? I am sure that she would be quite entertained by his sudden change in character.” Edmund turned away from her and studied the passing countryside. “And did you think of me, Fanny, when you drank tea and reached your pleasant understanding with Miss Crawford?”
Fanny turned to her own window and covered her mouth with her hand, so that Edmund should not hear her cry. Edmund’s words pained her, but had she not, after all, done what was right? Did he think her a fool? Had he forgotten all the Crawfords’ wrongs towards her? Had not she just as much to forgive as Maria or he did? A moment later, she felt his hand cover hers again, and she turned to face him. Edmund brought her head to his shoulder and held her there. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Realizing a few minutes later that her tears were staining his coat, Fanny sat up and began searching for her handkerchief. Edmund watched her dry her face, then fold the cloth into perfect halves until it was once again a tiny, neat square. “I wish you would agree to marry me, Fanny,” he said.
Fanny hesitated in putting away her handkerchief, feeling that she would need it again momentarily. She looked up at Edmund with a smile last seen ten years earlier when she played with her brothers and sisters in Portsmouth. Had he not asked her this question once before? It seemed very long ago . . . and why had she then refused him? Recalling her former confusion caused by James Prescott, remembering the pleasure this day had so far afforded, and overwhelmed with happiness, Fanny began to laugh. William Price had once seen his sister laugh in such a way, but not for such a length of time as she did while poor Edmund was awaiting her answer. “Edmund . . .” she attempted. She unfolded the handkerchief again and wiped her eyes.
Edmund shrugged. “I suppose my proposal must have been amusing in some way — indeed, in whatever way you have taken it, but —”
“It was amusing?”
“No,” Fanny laughed again. “I meant, ‘yes,’ I want to marry you.”
For some time after Fanny left, Mary sat quietly in the sitting room. Once again, she mused, Fanny Price had proved herself stronger than those around her. Mary herself felt weak, empty, and unhappy. She felt that Henry had lately turned into cruelty itself, and she — Miss Mary Crawford, clever and confident — had asked forgiveness of a poor and trembling girl who would someday be the wife of Edmund Bertram. Before today, the world contained only two people whom Mary could trust and love — her brother and herself. Now she felt that she had neither.
Mary heard the door creak open, then the sound of light footsteps. She looked up to see Henry coming towards her. He sat down. Mary sat up straighter and turned away from him. “Please leave me, Henry. It must give you enough satisfaction to know that I’m defeated.”
“Defeated? Because Fanny Price forgave you? I have not your feelings on the subject, Mary. You forget that Fanny also forgave me, and I feel strangely victorious.”
“Yes, you are always victorious, aren’t you, Henry?”
Henry looked suddenly grave. “No victory has ever been so sweet, Mary — and none will be so brief.”
“I don’t understand you.”
Henry relaxed in his chair and did not attempt to make his meaning clear. He asked instead, “You still wish to return to London?”
“Of course I do. I desire nothing more.”
“Excellent. I propose that we leave Lambton tonight. If you don’t mind, though, I find it necessary to stop briefly in Northamptonshire on our way to London.”
“Whatever for? That county has no wish to see any more of us!”
“You may find it difficult to believe me, Mary,” Henry smiled, “but my purpose in going is to correct a great wrong.”
Mary could not withhold a wry smile at her brother’s expense. “Difficult to believe? Say rather impossible.”
Impulsive as ever, the Crawfords readied themselves in only a few hours, and after an early supper, they stepped into their carriage. Mary could feel nothing but relief; very soon she would be attending balls and parties as she always did, losing herself in the mix of faces that were so familiar, even if she could not match them with names. In such society, one could scarcely think — and Mary could think of nothing more appealing. Henry, on the other hand, did not intend to stay in London for one second more than was necessary. He would take Mary to her house in Westminster, and then drive back to his own estate in Norfolk with his new wife.
The lengthy drive served the happy purpose of making brother and sister affectionate again, and they arrived in Northamptonshire in the best of spirits the next afternoon. Henry, still unwilling to tell his sister his reason for stopping there, let her off on a street of fashionable shops and said only, “I shall return for you in a few hours.”
Mary recognized the street immediately as one of her favorite places to visit during their time at Mansfield parsonage. “Henry,” she said before he could drive off, “what are you doing? We are not above three miles from Mansfield Park. Can it be that you are going there?”
“When I return, you will know everything, Mary. You have my word.”
“That doesn’t mean much,” she said to herself as the carriage pulled away. She knew that Henry was going to Mansfield Park, though she could not fathom a reason for it. With quite a generous amount of money in her purse, however, Mary started walking blithely to the first shop, and her brother was soon forgotten.
Henry felt ill as he drove his carriage up the lane to Mansfield Park. He knew that he must speak with Sir Thomas, but rightly doubted that Sir Thomas would admit him, much less listen to him. What father would look at a young man who had been the means of his daughter’s downfall? Once the mistress of Sotherton, an estate of twelve thousand a year, Maria Bertram now lived somewhere alone with her beastly Aunt Norris.
Instead of going into the house, Henry pulled a pencil stub from his coat pocket and wrote hurriedly on one of his cards, “Sir, I beg your forgiveness and desire your permission to propose marriage to Maria. I wait outside. H.C.” Henry knocked on the great door and was soon greeted by a welcome face.
“Mr. Crawford,” said the butler in some surprise.
“Baddely,” Henry replied, reaching to shake his hand. “Is Sir Thomas at home?”
“He is, sir. Shall I take you to him, sir?”
“No, no. Sir Thomas would be less than pleased to have me in his house. Would you give him this note, Baddely?”
“Yes, sir, right away. Do you intend to wait outside, Mr. Crawford?” Henry nodded, and Baddely took the note and shut the door. Henry repeatedly paced the length of his carriage until Baddely reappeared a few minutes later.
“Am I to leave?” he asked the butler, already preparing to climb into his carriage and go back for Mary.
Baddely, however, gave Henry to understand that Sir Thomas wanted to see him. As the butler led him to Sir Thomas’ library, Henry looked around at the familiar features of the house. They passed through the room where he had once read Shakespeare to Lady Bertram and Fanny, longing for the latter to gaze on him with something like appreciation. Baddely knocked on the library door and Sir Thomas’ strong voice said from within, “Come in.” Baddely opened the door and stood aside as Henry walked past him into the room, then closed the door and left the two gentlemen alone.
Sir Thomas stood in one corner of the room, his back to Henry. “This place where I am standing, Henry,” Sir Thomas began, “is the place where I saw you and Maria rehearsing for Lovers’ Vows upon my return from Antigua last year.” Henry could venture nothing, and Sir Thomas turned around and walked towards him, holding up the note. “What does this mean, Henry?”
“It means exactly what is written, sir,” Henry replied.
Sir Thomas looked down at the note. “You beg my forgiveness, do you, and ask my permission to marry Maria. I do not think it unreasonable for me to ask why.”
“I cannot hope to change, Sir Thomas, until I begin by doing what is right.”
“And you believe it ‘right’ to marry Maria, to take her away from her Aunt Norris, and to make her the mistress of Everingham.” Sir Thomas paused. “Do you love my daughter, Henry?”
Henry lowered his eyes. “No, sir.”
Sir Thomas did not reply for some time, saying finally, “You do love someone, though, Henry, and judging by this rather unbelievable change in you, you love her very much. You have my permission to marry Maria.”
“Thank you,” Henry replied. “I shall go to her immediately, if you tell me where she lives.” Henry thought of Anna — clever, bold, and perfect. That he should be forced to give her up for Maria Bertram! He had always joked to Mary that marriage was “heaven’s last best gift,” emphasizing last, and he had never intended that Everingham should have a mistress until he fell in love with Fanny Price. Now he could think of nothing better than the idea of Anna Crawford.
Henry left Mansfield Park and after a brief drive, found himself in front of a small house in the village. He knocked on the battered wooden door and was greeted by a lady whom he recognized as Maria’s maid at the Park. “Is your mistress in?” he asked her.
“Do you speak of Mrs. Norris or Miss Bertram?”
Before Henry could reply, an unhappily familiar, shrill voice came from one of the rooms. “Who’s there, Lydia? If you would not keep all our visitors standing at the door until nightfall, perhaps our humble life here might be a little more interesting. Is that one of your acquaintances? If you would stop sneaking away, maybe some small portion of your work would be finished by the end of the day.”
Henry had great sympathy for the young lady, who stood there angrily biting her tongue until Mrs. Norris had ended her tirade. “There is a visitor here for Miss Bertram, ma’am,” she replied.
“Very well, let her come in. I shall be there directly. And I have all this work to do! All this sewing and gardening, only to be interrupted by one of Miss Maria’s visitors. And you need not stand there waiting for me, Lydia. I’m sure our guest does not require as much constant supervision as your chores do.”
Lydia sighed as Henry stepped into the hall. “I shall fetch Miss Bertram quickly,” she said to him softly. The maid was true to her word; Maria appeared in the hall just as Henry heard Mrs. Norris set down her sewing. Too shocked to speak, Maria stood silently as Mrs. Norris left the sitting room and faced Henry.
While Mrs. Norris paused to decide how best to attack him, Henry moved past the older woman and spoke directly to Maria. “I would like to see you alone.”
“See her alone!” Mrs. Norris exclaimed, finding her words. “I would suppose that you had done that enough already! If you were not so set on seeing her alone, she would still be the mistress of Sotherton. What can you mean by coming here, Henry Crawford? If Sir Thomas knew of your presence here, he would fight you as soon as look at you! If I were not a Christian, I should kill you myself!”
“I am here by Sir Thomas’ permission,” Henry said calmly. “You would do well, ma’am, to give us this place alone.”
“My father knows you are here?” Maria asked.
Henry turned back to her. “Yes.”
As Mrs. Norris continued to assault Henry with every insult her Christian heart could bring to mind, Maria buttoned her spencer, tied on her bonnet, and followed Henry outside, slamming the door behind her.
“I need hardly express to you how much I hate you, Henry Crawford,” she said as soon as the door was shut, “nor can I imagine what brings you here.”
“I take as little pleasure in the meeting as you do, Maria — possibly less,” he replied, his old vanity rising up in him. “If this conversation should last no more than five minutes, I suppose neither of us would be hurt by it. With our mutual comfort and wishes in mind, therefore, I shall proceed directly.”
“By all means, do.”
“I have come, Maria, to offer you my hand in marriage. I confess that I wronged you, and though I cannot give you Sotherton again, it is in my power to offer you Everingham. I cannot but think that you would be more than happy to leave Mrs. Norris — as would your maid.”
“Are you . . . that is, Henry . . . are you really asking me to marry you?” Maria turned her head to the side and watched the people walking past them. Only a moment’s more thought, and she would have accepted Henry, but her resentment of him was too strong to allow another moment. “Do you realize how much pain you could have spared everyone at Mansfield Park, had you made me that offer before I married Mr. Rushworth?” She turned to meet his eyes again. “I loved you, Henry, and you knew it. Every day after my father returned, I waited for you to propose, but you never did. You spoke pretty words to me, and held my hand, but it all came to nothing — just as you intended from the beginning. I suppose I wasn’t quite the splendid conquest that Fanny might have been. I must have made the chase quite dull indeed! There was some fun in it for you, though, wasn’t there? You had the pleasure of enjoying jealousy and rivalry between Julia and me.”
Henry smirked. “Do you believe that it would somehow spite me if you refused me? Believe me, I will not spend a moment in regret of losing you. I came here to offer you a chance to go back into society — the loss is all yours.”
Maria understood the truth of his words, but felt that she could never again salvage her pride if she accepted him. She backed away from him and retorted, “Yes, you’re such a saint, Henry, all self-sacrifice and goodness. I know what you really are, even if you have managed to convince my father — and who else? — otherwise. You must have a very high opinion of yourself, to come here and expect me to cry on your shoulder with joy and gratitude.”
“You reject my offer, then?”
Maria lifted her chin. “That is a kind and polite way of expressing my feelings.”
“Very well.” He bowed. “Good day, Maria.” He turned on his heel and climbed into his carriage, watching her walk back into the house. The door slammed, immediately followed by the horrid voice of Mrs. Norris. Henry listened for a while to the indistinguishable words, then whipped the horse forward.
Maria had refused him, which must afford him no small measure of relief, but Henry felt that Anna was nevertheless lost to him. Even if he could persuade her to marry a man like himself, he knew that her family would never allow it. Fathers do not raise daughters carefully and attentively, only to allow them to marry rakes. Mr. Prescott, however concerned he may be for his daughter’s happiness, would save her for someone worthy, and Henry could think of no one more unworthy than himself.
Mary came to the carriage with a smile and several parcels. She handed them up to Henry, and then stepped up to sit down beside him. “I trust you got all of your business done, while spending the most amount of money,” Henry teased her.
“I certainly tried. And what about your business, Henry? You promised to tell me.”
“Yes, and I will. After visiting Sir Thomas at Mansfield Park, I went to the village to propose to Maria.”
Mary laughed. “Henry, do be serious.”
“I am perfectly serious. Maria refused my offer quite forcefully, however, so I intend to stay in London instead of leaving for Everingham.”
“Henry, what on earth could have come over you? You very nearly condemned yourself to a lifetime with Maria Bertram! You may be sure that were she mistress of Everingham, I should never be suffered to visit. For your sake, I hope you are not serious. I will change the subject and speak to you at length about one of the hats I purchased today.”
“Anna, how you will be astounded by the hat I purchased earlier today!” Emma exclaimed gayly as the carriage drew them down a bumpy London street. Anna smiled as she turned away from the window; Emma provided a welcome distraction from thoughts about Henry Crawford. “It isn’t made yet, but I cannot tell you how delightful it is. My word, it was hot and stuffy outside this morning. What a pity that one should ever have need to leave the comfort of one’s home!”
“I agree with you,” Anna smiled. “Perhaps we should stay home this evening instead of venturing out to the Perry ball. I dare say it is not too late to turn the carriage.”
“Dear me. What better time to leave home than at night, when one doesn’t have to endure the insufferable sun? And the Perrys always give the most fashionable balls. I wish my hat would have been ready by tonight, but I could not persuade the shopkeeper to give priority to my order.”
The Perrys did host fashionable balls, evidenced by the number of carriages and people crowding the street in front of their house. Anna followed her cousin through the maze of horses, muslin, and canes, then hurried through a receiving line of people she didn’t know. Emma had a great talent for finding her acquaintances without being able to see them, and soon left Anna sitting in a corner. Accustomed to her cousin’s desertion at such gatherings, Anna sat quietly and watched the dances.
Anna looked up to see Mary Crawford approaching her delightedly. “Miss Crawford!” she exclaimed. “I did not expect to see you here! When did you leave Derbyshire?”
“Not soon enough,” Mary sighed as she sat down beside Anna. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to find an intelligent acquaintance here. Now I shall really be able to have some conversation this evening. I had no idea you were in London.”
“I left Oakbridge on the morning Fanny went to Lambton.”
“Oh, I see . . . Henry and I also left that afternoon. Henry is so impulsive, and I had never wanted to stay, so we quickly effected our departure. I would have been back in Westminster hours sooner, had Henry not stopped in Northampton.”
“Really?” Anna knew that Mansfield Park was in Northamptonshire, but she could not devise a polite way to inquire further. Fortunately, Mary was willing to speak more on the subject.
“Indeed.” Mary laughed. “I don’t know how well you know my brother, Miss Prescott, from your few brief meetings, but he can be so queer!” — lowering her voice — “He went to speak with Maria Bertram. In truth, to propose to her!”
As Fanny Price had done before her, Anna felt dismayed at Mary’s careless indiscretion regarding her family’s private matters, yet this feeling was nothing compared to the overwhelming disappointment which she strove successfully to hide. “I had no idea . . . no idea that Henry still loved Miss Bertram. In fact, I thought — had great reason to think he . . .” Anna found herself unable to continue. What about Fanny? Was Henry’s heart so inconstant?
Mary waved her hand dismissively. “He doesn’t care three straws for Maria. But Henry has been acting in the most peculiar manner lately. I hardly know what to think of him anymore. Is your cousin here this evening?”
“What?” asked Anna distractedly, still attempting to reason why Henry would marry a woman whom he didn’t love — yet he was engaged now. She wondered if her own harsh words to him had led him back to Maria. Anna had insisted that he leave Derbyshire, but never had she intended that he should — !
“Your cousin, Mrs. Scott,” Mary clarified.
“Yes, yes, Emma is here this evening.”
“Showing off a new gown, I dare say,” Mary smiled.
Anna tried to shake off her gravity and laughed. “Yes, and soon you will see her in an astounding new hat.”
“Now you must not mock her for that, Miss Prescott. You make me blush at my own vanity,” said Mary, reaching up to touch the edge of the hat she had purchased in Northamptonshire.
“And did your brother accompany you this evening?” Anna asked disinterestedly.
“Lord, no, he has developed quite a distaste for London gatherings. There was a time when he loved nothing better than dancing and flirtation — he always laughed with me later over how many hearts he broke on some particular evening. Henry is not so amusing now as he once was. I would boldly credit it to the influence of Miss Price, though he has not mentioned her lately.”
Not lately mentioned Fanny! Perhaps Mary was wrong, and Henry did love Maria Bertram, after all. Anna bit her lip and turned momentarily away. She was disappointed, to be sure, but Anna did admit to a certain feeling of pride in Henry, that he had done the right thing. And what right had she to be disappointed? Henry did not love her, nor had he ever given her any reason to think he did. He had treated her always as a good friend, and she had no right — no right at all! — to expect anything more. A young man asked Mary to dance, and Anna did not see her for the remainder of the evening.
While his sister and Anna were thus speaking, Henry was at Hill Street composing a letter, unlike anything he had ever written, to Mr. Rushworth. His uncle sat by the fire complaining about items in the newspaper and wondering when they should next go to White’s, while his uncle’s mistress, Miss Barry — for whose sake Mary had been sent away — hovered about both the Admiral and Henry, offering tea. When Henry had done with his letter, he tilted it a little towards the fire to read it over one more time before it was sent.
Sir, my most sincere apologies to you are long overdue, and not at all sufficient to address the great wrong I have done both you and your former wife. I beg you to read this letter with more forebearance than its writer deserves. Miss Bertram suffers a great deal, and I take complete responsibility for it. I ask you, Rushworth, to go to her and take her back. Why should she be punished — and why should you be denied the pleasure of the company of the one you loved — because of my wrongs? An estate as magnificent as Sotherton must have a mistress, and who better than Miss Bertram? If you do decide to act in your own best interest, sir (and how could a man of such great sense and taste not do so?), do not mention this letter to Miss Bertram.
I never had the opportunity, Rushworth, to confess to you that your acting in our staging of Lovers’ Vows was better than that of every other person combined. H.C.
Henry smiled with satisfaction at his exquisite composition of humility and flattery, the two techniques most likely to work on Mr. Rushworth. The master of Sotherton was the stupidest man in England, to be sure, but Maria had entertained no objection to his twelve thousand a year. Henry guessed that Maria would be more than happy to go back to Rushworth, and that Rushworth would be quite glad to demonstrate his triumph over Henry Crawford by winning back Maria. After folding the letter, Henry directed it to Wimpole Street, guessing that Rushworth would be staying at his townhouse, just as he was at this time last year.
“Henry, what are you doing over there?” his uncle asked, sloppily folding his newspaper and dropping it on the floor beside him.
“Keeping up my correspondence,” Henry replied. He shoved the letter into his coat pocket and left the window to join his uncle at the fire.
“Just read that your young friend got promoted again.”
“Sir?” asked Henry, falling into a chair.
“The Price boy. He got promoted again, this time without my help. He’s a fine lad — just needed to be noticed by someone of consequence. I suspect his career will advance pretty swiftly now. A roomful of midshipmen aren’t worth three pounds, but once a fellow has gotten out of that rank, his future is bright.”
“I wonder if Fanny knows,” Henry said to himself.
“I was just wondering if his sister knew about his promotion,” Henry repeated.
“That little tart you fancied yourself so in love with last year?” the Admiral laughed.
“Miss Price, yes.”
“She treated you kindly, I dare say, by refusing to marry you. No woman who really loved a man would chain him down in marriage, that I can grant you.” He turned his head to Miss Barry, who had just sat down with some needlework. “Elizabeth, why don’t you fetch us some brandy?” When she had gone, the Admiral said to Henry, “I didn’t raise you to get chained down, boy, and just you mind that. Your income will be much more enjoyable if you don’t have to spend it on muslin and baubles and such. You want some?” he offered, holding up the brandy bottle as Miss Barry sat down again.
Fanny was to learn of William’s promotion a week later, when she received a very cheerful letter from him. Edmund was sitting with her when the mail arrived, and neglected his own letter to admire the smile that crept over Fanny’s face as she read. “William has been promoted again,” she said delightedly, laying the paper down in her lap. “Edmund, I don’t think I have ever been so happy — what with William and . . . and you.” Fanny colored and looked down at the letter.
“No one deserves happiness more than you do, Fanny,” said Edmund, taking her hand.
“You musn’t say such things.”
“Does this mean that William is coming for another visit?”
“He doesn’t say,” Fanny replied. “Oh, but I hope he is coming soon! When are we going back to Mansfield?”
“Soon, I believe. My father is eager for us to come home, as he longs to see you. For a long time you have been as one of his own children, Fanny — but now you really will be his daughter.”
Blushing even more, Fanny turned away and said, “I wish you would not speak so, Edmund.”
“Don’t you know how much of a comfort you have been to him, Fanny? And I hardly need add what your company has meant to my mother all these years. However, I dare say no one loves you so well as I do.”
Fanny faced him again and smiled. “I have enjoyed my time here in Derbyshire, but I do miss Mansfield. I hope we are able to go home soon.”
“I believe that we shall be on our way as soon as Tom settles a few things here,” Edmund smiled. “How will you like having Charis for a sister, Fanny?”
“I like her very much,” said Fanny warmly. “And I like James as well. I wish I could have known Anna better — they seem to be a wonderful family.”
“Yes, not to mention their relations at Oak Hill. Your sister seems to be especially fond of that family.”
“Lady Prescott has certainly paid very kind attention to Susan,” Fanny agreed.
“Not to mention Lady Prescott’s son.”
Fanny returned Edmund’s smile. “You haven’t opened your own letter,” she reminded him. “Is it another from your father?”
Edmund picked up the letter and turned it over. “It is. And I just had a letter from him days ago,” he said as he opened it and began reading. It was now Fanny’s turn to watch a delighted — if somewhat puzzled — expression appear on Edmund’s face. “This is almost impossible to believe,” he said, handing the letter to Fanny.
She read it quickly and looked up at Edmund. “Mr. Rushworth and Maria?” She smiled. “Isn’t it wonderful? And it must be true, for your father would not make a joke on such a subject.”
“No, indeed he wouldn’t,” said Edmund, taking back the letter. “I cannot deny that this is happy news, though I am entirely at a loss as to how it was effected. You know,” he mused, “Mr. Crawford went to Mansfield the day after he and Mary left Lambton. My father mentioned the visit in his last letter.”
Fanny’s eyes widened. “Henry called on Sir Thomas? Whatever for?”
“He asked my father’s permission to marry Maria, if she would have him. This latest letter makes it quite clear that she refused Henry.”
Fanny could not have been more shocked — or more delighted. “Don’t you see, Edmund? This proves that his apology to me was sincere. He was really trying to make things right by going back to your sister.”
“I cannot think so well of him,” said Edmund, shaking his head. “You give your approbation too readily, Fanny. Henry must have had some other motive, though I have no idea what it could be.”
“You have no idea because there is no other logical reason for such an action,” Fanny insisted with surprising force. “In fact, I would venture to declare that perhaps Henry had something to do with bringing your sister and Mr. Rushworth together again.”
“Yes, I was thinking the same thing, though I see some sort of devious plan behind it. Henry could not have changed so much in so short a period of time. Do you not begin to doubt him, Fanny?”
“Last year, I doubted him when everyone else didn’t . . . now I have every confidence in him. I hope my judgment will prove me right once again,” she said with no hint of arrogance.
“I must confess that your judgment has always been infallible,” Edmund said admiringly. “It might serve me well to go by your judgment in every case from now on.”
“Do not say so,” Fanny murmured, suddenly embarrassed.
“I don’t have to, Fanny. Your perfection speaks for itself.”
“Good morning, Mr. Bertram, Miss Price,” said James Prescott, striding easily into the room. “I hope the mail brought good news for both of you.”
Fanny’s face brightened as she held up her brother’s letter. “William has just been promoted.”
“That is excellent news indeed! I am very happy for him. Will he be granted a short leave so that his family might admire his distinguished new uniform?”
“I hope we may see him very soon at Mansfield Park,” Fanny said fondly.
“Your news, Miss Price, nearly made me forget my purpose in coming here. Would either of you like to join me for a ride to Lambton?” James offered. “I thought I would call on the Crawfords. They were so kind to bring Anna home, and we have not seen much of them.”
“Did you not know that they left almost two weeks ago, Mr. Prescott?” asked Fanny. “I’m very sorry that you didn’t have a chance to tell them goodbye.”
“Gone, did you say?” James did not attempt to deny to himself that after only a few brief meetings, he was smitten with Mary Crawford, and was sorely disappointed that he would not see her again. Just lately he learned that he had lost Fanny to Edmund, but he had never entertained much hope in that quarter. His calm adjustment to the loss of Fanny made him realize that perhaps she did not mean as much to him as he had supposed. Mary Crawford, however, was clever and wealthy — not to mention strikingly beautiful. She would be a worthy ornament for even the richest estate.
“Yes, they went home to London,” Fanny answered him. “Mary lives in Westminster with her sister, and Henry lives with their uncle and his . . . housekeeper,” Fanny finished with a blush.
“I am sorry to hear that they left,” James remarked casually. “Have a good afternoon!” He comforted himself with the thought that Anna was in London, and that someone must go eventually to bring her home.
Mary closed her parasol and knocked on the door of the Admiral’s house; she was answered by Miss Barry, and they greeted each other as warmly as might be expected. Mary inquired after her brother, wondering why she had been asked to leave her home — and why the Admiral had so soon replaced her aunt, an excellent lady — for such an unremarkable young woman. Miss Barry led her inside and directed her to the Admiral’s billiard room, where Henry was playing alone. As Mary walked in, Henry took a shot and missed, then frowned up at his sister.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, aiming for another shot. “I thought you intended never to enter this house again — not that I blame you for that.” He struck the ball and missed again.
Mary laughed. “For shame, Henry! That was an easy shot. As for ‘entering this house again,’ as you so dramatically put it, I was bored this afternoon, and thought I might amuse myself by visiting you . . . especially since you never deign to visit me.”
“Do you want to go for a walk?” he offered.
“That would be lovely, but only if you promise me that you’ll practice some more when you get home again,” she teased, motioning to the table. “I’ve never seen such a terrible player.”
“If I am to spend my afternoon amusing you, let us have no more cruel remarks on my questionable skill at billiards.” He opened the door for her and added, “I can’t be good at everything.”
Mary laughed as she opened her parasol and set it on her shoulder. “You’re quite good at boasting.” When they had walked some distance down the street in silence, Mary asked, “Why does she stay there with him?”
“What do you mean?” Henry asked.
“Elizabeth Barry. Why does she stay with the Admiral? I should never allow a man to put me in charge of housekeeping so that he didn’t have to marry me. Has she no pride?”
“If she ever did, she has none now. But you have money, Mary, and that gives you the luxury of choosing. Miss Barry is very poor — and still so young! I wish life would offer her some path beside the one she treads more than once each day from the sitting room to my uncle’s bottles of brandy. Do you remember when we first met her?”
“Yes. Our aunt was still alive then, but that did not prevent the Admiral from . . . I seem to recall that Miss Barry had just lost her father, and was left with nothing. How pretty she was then! I know that you thought so, for you flirted with her a great deal.”
Henry smiled. “I flirted a great deal with every lady. She was very pretty, though, and much too good for the Admiral. You and I had several pleasant conversations with her.”
“I thought her quite witty and clever at the time, but her dealings with the Admiral soon led me to question her intelligence. I did like her, though. She deserves better than our uncle. But I am weary of all this serious talk!” she complained. “I feel as though I am continually in the presence of Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram. Are you going to lecture me now on Cowper and family prayers?”
Henry laughed in spite of himself. “I fear I am ignorant of both subjects.”
“Fanny and Edmund are so different from most of my acquaintance. There was always something about them . . . something fine. I always felt that I, as a ‘mere mortal,’ could never live up to their standards. Do you understand me?”
“At the time I first arrived at Mansfield Park, I wanted something fine,” Mary continued with a small catch in her voice. “After my aunt’s death, and coming from the Admiral’s house . . . every person I saw seemed tarnished — myself most of all. And I hated the Admiral for how he treated my aunt, and for how he treated me. I wanted to find a man who had nothing in common with my uncle — nothing — and that was Edmund. If my uncle was the representation of every bad quality, then Edmund was everything I wanted. He was never anything other than a gentleman . . . always kind, and always treating me as if I were something just as fine as he was — which, of course, I wasn’t. He blindly attributed perfections to me and almost convinced me that his idea of me was true. I suppose I loved his idea of me, and so I loved him. But enough of all that.”
Enlightened by Mary’s unexpected and heartfelt speech, Henry began to understand what his lively and witty sister had seen to admire in staid, somber Edmund Bertram, whom he himself had always thought rather dull. Henry then wondered why he had loved Fanny. He did not question that he had loved her — at least with a feeling which he then understood as love — though it was nothing compared to his affection for Anna.
After a lengthy silence, Henry said, “I was once very fond of the Admiral; in my eyes he was what every gentleman ought to be. But when I met William Price, I began to see my uncle differently. Here was a young Naval officer without a trace of cynicism or unkindness. His words were never vulgar or sharp, and he was pleasingly affectionate to Fanny.”
“William was always such a dear,” she agreed, “and so amusing and lively! I danced with him once at the ball, and found nothing wanting in either his character, his grace, or his conversation. I liked him very much, and was exceedingly sorry that we could not know him better.”
Henry suddenly looked at his sister with something like mischievous curiosity. “He was recently promoted again, you know. I dare say he will be quite rich in a few years.”
“I can think of no one more deserving of wealth,” said Mary warmly, adding, “besides myself.” She laughed and colored a little, then changed the subject — “Did I tell you that I spoke with Anna Prescott last week? She was at one of the balls I went to, though I couldn’t tell you which.”
Looking away so as not to betray his real interest, Henry asked, “Is that so? I was not aware that she is in London. How did she look?”
“She looked the same as ever. Do you mind if we step into this shop? I ordered a length of silk, and I’m anxious for it to arrive. I see by your expression that you do mind and are excessively bored, but there is no help for that! Just wait out here; I shall be back again momentarily.”
Henry followed his sister into the shop, however, and waited somewhat impatiently as she finished her purchases. A young lady with armloads of new things is lucky to have a brother nearby, who may be imposed upon to carry some — if not all — of her parcels, and so Henry did for Mary. She was eager to go back to Westminster and show everything to Mrs. Grant; they walked back to Hill Street, where Henry handed Mary’s packages up to the coachman and bid her farewell.
For some minutes after Mary had gone, Henry sat restlessly in the sitting room, watching his uncle and Miss Barry play at backgammon. How could he sit still in this house when Anna Prescott was only a short drive away? He jumped up and began pacing the room, trying to decide if Anna would see him if he did go. The Admiral watched his nephew from the corner of his eye, then said, “Henry, what in blazes are you doing?”
“Nothing . . . nothing, I’m about to leave,” Henry replied distractedly.
“Go then! How can I concentrate with you walking about the room like that? I shall send for the carriage myself. Out!”
This was all the prompting Henry needed; within minutes he had left the house and was walking towards the Scotts’. Unlike the Admiral, Henry knew that Miss Barry made a routine of taking the carriage to her friend Mrs. Stockard’s house every Wednesday afternoon, and he left it for her use. The day was mild and the streets not overly crowded, making Henry’s walk seem short and pleasant. As he stood at the Scotts’ door, however, he began to feel as though the time had passed too quickly. He knocked and was soon answered by Mr. Scott himself.
“Good day, Crawford. Here to see Miss Prescott, I suppose?”
“Yes, my sister recently informed me of your friend’s being in town again, and I thought I should stop by and visit her. Is she in?”
Mr. Scott nodded and motioned for Henry to come inside. “I should tell you,” he said upon closing the door, “that my amiable wife is presently entertaining Miss Prescott. However, I’m sure that when the circumstances are fully explained, the latter will have no objection to visiting you instead.”
As Henry laughed, Mr. Scott disappeared around a corner and was replaced moments later by Anna. They stared at each other wordlessly for some time, Henry because he loved the sight of her, and Anna because she didn’t know her guest was Henry.
Anna soon regained her composure and said, “Hello, Mr. Crawford.”
“Miss Prescott,” he replied, bowing to her. Then, feelingly — “Anna.”
“Sir, I —”
“I want to thank you for the things you said to me when last we met in Lambton. Your words could not have fallen on ears more inclined to heed them. Everything you said was perceptive and true.” He lightened his tone and continued, “Mary informed me of your being in town, and I was quite happy to hear of it. I wish you had sent word to us, so that we might have called upon you sooner.”
Still taken aback by the first part of his speech, Anna replied, “I would have, had I known . . . that is, I thought you both were still in Derbyshire, until I saw Mary. And then, I thought you would be too occupied with . . . forgive me, Mr. Crawford, would you like to sit down?” As she led Henry to a sofa, Anna berated herself for speaking and acting so foolishly.
“How long will you be in London?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
After a minute’s silence, Anna said, “I understand that congratulations are in order; I should have been more prompt with them.”
“Congratulations?” Henry repeated.
“Yes, on your engagement to Miss Bertram. Your sister told me that you stopped at Mansfield on your way to London, and . . .” Anna looked down. “The news was rather unexpected to me, as I believed that you were still . . . that your heart belonged to another. Perhaps you may understand my amazement.”
“You were right to be astonished; my heart did belong to another.”
“Nevertheless, my feelings changed immediately from wonder to happiness,” Anna continued, smiling at him. “I was proud of you for doing something so honorable.” She paused. “You admit that you do not love Miss Bertram.”
“No,” he answered, quite gratified at the thought that Anna was proud of him, and looking at her with feelings completely opposite those he felt for Maria Bertram. “I take it that Mary did not clarify to you that I am not to marry Miss Bertram; she refused me.”
Anna fought the happiness that threatened to reveal itself in her face. “No, your sister seemed to imply — I mean, I suppose I misunderstood what she meant. You still love Miss Price, then.” She lowered her head to hide any color that might rise in her cheek as she continued, “I am sorry indeed that she cannot return your affection; your actions prove that you wish to make yourself worthy of her.”
“Miss Price’s good opinion means nothing to me, as long as I have yours.”
Anna looked up at him suddenly. The idea of Henry loving her had seemed always so impossible, she distrusted her understanding of his words, yet the expression on his face could not be mistaken. “Mine, Henry?” she repeated in a small voice.
He smiled at her. “I cannot express to you how relieved I was when Maria refused me, but I had to ask her because I loved you. I never realized it until I apologized to Miss Price for everything — ”
“You did?” interrupted Anna.
Henry laughed. “Yes. I would say that my vanity has suffered enough, did not the present situation require one more act of humility.” So saying, he left his chair and went to kneel down in front of Anna’s.
Had Emma Scott known that her cousin was only rooms away, accepting a proposal of marriage from Henry Crawford, the most intriguing of all rakes, she may at last have discovered the event which could distract her from pinning apple blossoms on an afternoon bonnet. Emma was not to be thus interrupted, however, for her husband did not identify Anna’s visitor, and Anna returned to the sitting room not ten minutes later and picked up her book without a word. Nor was Emma made suspicious by Anna’s heightened color, for the room was, after all, “getting frightfully warm! Peter, dearest, where is my fan?”
Three weddings took place in Northamptonshire that summer, and Sir Thomas Bertram was made the happiest father in the country by seeing both of his sons married to unexceptionable young women in the space of a month, as well as the remarriage of his eldest daughter. His new daughters-in-law could not have made him prouder: Charis Prescott, one of the finest young women to be found; and Fanny Price — dear Fanny. And perhaps the second marriage of Maria to Mr. Rushworth — a quiet affair performed by Edmund at Mansfield church — pleased Sir Thomas more than the first had.
The Prescotts of Derbyshire bid farewell to another one of their children that summer, as Anna married Henry Crawford in London. When they learned of the latter’s efforts to redeem himself, and when Sir Thomas Bertram gave them his approbation of Henry, Mr. and Mrs. Prescott could not disapprove a match which seemed to be the fondest wish of their daughter. Anna became the mistress of Everingham, and Henry still claimed that marriage was “heaven’s last best gift,” though he emphasized, it may be presumed, a different adjective. The Prescotts had only to rid themselves of one more of their offspring, and as James Prescott spent more and more time at his father’s townhouse and paid regular visits to the two ladies at Westminster, he eventually convinced the younger that she might enjoy a quiet life in Derbyshire.
Admiral Crawford never quite forgave Henry for “chaining himself down,” nor did he manage to forgive his nephew for introducing Elizabeth Barry to another man of the navy, William Price. Miss Barry did not struggle to decide whom she preferred, and soon learned to love Portsmouth even more than she did London.
Susan Price was then the only young person to remain at Mansfield Park, and Chapman was obliged to pull out many more loose threads from Lady Bertram’s sleeve. Lady Bertram comforted herself with the thought that dear little Susan would never leave them, never suspecting that dear little Susan received weekly letters from the future heir of Oak Hill. Sir Thomas would, in a few years, see his niece well-married to Stephen Prescott, and Mansfield Park would welcome Betsey Price as the new companion for Lady Bertram.
Sir Thomas never imagined, when Mrs. Norris convinced him to adopt one of the children of “dear sister Price,” that the future happiness of his home and family would depend upon the ten-year-old girl who never spoke and who trembled in his presence. Sir Thomas did not consider the expense of Fanny Price’s upbringing, for she had already proved to be a far greater gift to both his wife and to himself. I could not find better words than those of another writer, who said of Sir Thomas — “his liberality had a rich repayment.”