Chapter One: Sharing of Confidences
Susan Price was not the Bertram household a fortnight before she had noticed her sister Fanny's preference for their cousin, Edmund. This attachment may have been lost to many, but to Susan, who had for years been forced to hone her skills of observation, and who had only lately discovered the felicity of having an elder sister, it could not be missed. The signs were small--the slight blush of color that crossed Fanny's cheek when in Edmund's company, the inadvertent praise she occasionally gave him, and the promptness with which she followed any advice given to by him. It was enough. Susan saw the signs, and correctly made the judgment that Fanny was in love.
What surprised Susan was Fanny's inaction on the matter. True, Fanny was of poor dowry, but what she lacked in fortune, Susan knew that she had abundantly in virtue. Edmund's esteem for her was unmistakable, but it would be for naught if Fanny did not tell him--in small ways--that she had affection for him.
She decided that she must speak to Fanny--to tell her to make her feelings known. If Fanny negated the persuasion, at least she would know that she had Susan as a confidant and friend. The sad business of Mrs. Rushworth and Mr. Crawford made Susan detain her determination to speak to Fanny, and in the interim, she observed Fanny as she grew accustomed to the people and environ of Mansfield Park.
The removal of her aunt Norris from that part of the country was a very pleasant change, and one which finally gave Susan conviction that it was the right time to speak to her sister. All that was needed now was the perfect moment, and Susan waited--rather impatiently--for it to come. She settled within herself that the best place for the communication would be the little East room which Fanny used as her sitting room--this was the place where Fanny was most oft alone, since in the other parts of the house she was at any time to be of assistance to Aunt Bertram.
The opportunity came on a warm Fall afternoon, when Fanny asked Susan to the East room, where they could sit and work on some embroidery that Fanny was instructing Susan to work. Susan began her communication as quickly as possible, but, unaccustomed to saying such things, she blundered--first being as vague as possible, which drew her sister's curiosity: "Susan, dear, I am sorry, but I cannot understand your meaning." She thereupon decided to be as clear as possible, but upon Susan's beginning, Fanny grew crimson and turned the subject. Susan, fearing that she had hurt her sister, did not continue the subject, hoping she had not damaged her sister's friendship with her.
The t'te … t'te concluded amicably, though, with Fanny's manner remaining as affable and sisterly as ever. Susan, much relieved, decided not to continue the subject, unless Fanny mentioned it herself.
Another subject of importance soon presented itself to Susan, though, and it necessarily drew her attention, forcing the former subject to move to the background of her mind--not quite forgotten, but less of an object than before.
Two days after her conversation with Fanny, Susan spent the morning in her own small sitting room, poring over a long book of French history that her sister had especially recommended for study. Susan, far from enjoying the book, had earned only a headache as a result of her labours. Late that morning, she was sitting on her little brown couch, wishing the headache to dissipate, when the door opened and her sister entered, a smile on her face, a plate of biscuits in hand.
"I see you have been reading your history," Fanny said appreciatively.
"Yes, but it goes very ill indeed," Susan said. She moved over to make room on the couch for her sister.
"Are you finding the subject difficult?" Fanny asked as she sat down.
"I think so. There is a very great lot of French words in it, and I have never had French at home."
"Mama did not think that education was very important."
"No. And because of that, I find that forming my own education--even with your excellent guidance--is not something I am prepared for."
"Do you think you would get on better if you had a regular instructor?"
"I think I could--if the instructor was someone I could trust, like yourself, and did not assign me volumes of reading without explaining them. I believe the only reason I have got on so far is because of your patience."
Fanny ignored the compliment and said thoughtfully, "I believe I know just the person. Do you know Miss Huston?"
"I know a little about her, but have not met her yet," said Susan, chewing on a chocolate biscuit. "I know she just moved into the neighborhood a sennight ago."
"I had occasion to speak to her at the Westerley's luncheon the week previous, and she seemed a very principled, well-spoken young woman. She has moved here to live with the Westerleys--Mr. Westerley being her uncle--and has worked as a governess. I think you should like her."
"If you say I will, then I know I shall," said Susan. "But-- O! What shall my aunt and uncle Bertram say? Will not it be expensive to obtain a governess? I do not wish to be a burden."
"Rather than being a regular governess, she would remain at her uncle's, and ride over to instruct you during the day. I believe it would be a much smaller sum of money." She hesitated. "I have not asked my aunt or uncle for permission yet, but I believe they will approve it."
"Do you think so? Oh, I am so glad!" Susan quickly embraced her sister. "Thank you ever so much for planning this, Fanny. And, please, let me ask my aunt and uncle myself. I want them to hear it from me."
"Are you certain you wish to tell them yourself?"
"Yes, I am."
Fanny's face showed obvious relief. "Then I shall let you," she said.
Chapter Two: A Morning Walk
Edmund Bertram enjoyed a morning stroll at Mansfield Park. Because he was soon to take possession of the parsonage house at Thornton Lacey, his days were growing fewer at home, and he wanted to enjoy the park for the next few weeks especially.
For several months, his rambles around the park had been home to rather intense, gloomy thoughts about himself and of Miss Mary Crawford. At first his thoughts had been of deep dislike, of ill-use. Remorse followed, though. He had been wrong to pursue Miss Crawford, from the first. He thought of Fanny's communications--with her only could he speak of Miss Crawford--and how Fanny revealed things about Miss Crawford that he could not defend--for instance, how Miss Crawford had pressed Fanny into receiving a necklace from her brother, Henry. How much foresight Fanny had had with Henry! How much self-possession! Would that he had been so wise with Miss Crawford.
This morning's rambles were not of such a melancholy tenor, however. The unusual warmth of the day, along with the bright colors of the deciduous trees, about to shed, led his mind onto more cheerful paths--thoughts of his upcoming work at Thornton Lacey.
He had been on his walk only a short time when he noticed that he was not alone in the park. At first he did not recognize the figure at the opposite end of the park--it was a young woman, dressed in blue, no bonnet covering her light brown hair. The girl was dashing along the lane with great energy. Fanny's sister, he suddenly realized. Susan, he thought her name was. Though she had been at Mansfield Park for some months, he did not recall speaking to her more than a handful of times. Remembering another young lady's entrance into the Bertram's household, and the loneliness she had felt, he suddenly recognized how remiss he had been in not seeking out Susan's acquaintance.
Determined to speak to her, he crossed the centre of the park, toward his cousin. The warmth of this section of the park, uncovered by trees, made sweat grow on his brow. The shade of the trees on the other side of the park was a welcome relief.
"Hullo! Cousin!" he called.
She stopped, midstride, and turned towards him. "Edmund!" she said, her smile reaching to her sparkly forget-me-not blue eyes.
"I was on my morning stroll and wondered if you would like to join me," he said, extending his arm.
She stepped toward him and took his arm without hesitation. "Thank you, I would," she said.
They walked down the lane, talking of ordinary matters, him taking stock of her features and character. He had met Fanny's family but once, and it was disagreeable to think of that time. He recalled it, though, to think of who Susan most reminded him of. In features he thought Susan most resembled her mother. Her cheerful countenance was something of her own, he decided, but her friendly, feminine attitude reminded him of Fanny.
"And how do you like Mansfield Park, now that you have settled in?" he asked.
"O! Very well!" she said, in a smiling voice. "There is so much more room to move around in here than at Portsmouth, and my aunt and uncle are very kind to me. But, most of all, I am glad to be with Fanny."
"You and Fanny get along well?"
"Yes, indeed! I do not mean to be disrespectful to my mother and father (they have their trials and own difficulties) but there is no one at home who understands me as well as Fanny." Her voice softened, and she said, "No one since sister Mary died."
"I am sorry about your sister," he said.
"Thank you," she said. She looked downcast for a few moments, and then her countenance suddenly brightened; apparently with a new thought. "Do you know what Fanny suggested yesterday?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"She proposed that I have a tutor; a young lady from town. Do you know Miss Huston?"
"Yes, I do," he said.
"Fanny suggested she be my tutor. I am going to ask my aunt and uncle. Do you think they well say yes? I am so horribly backward in my studies!"
He considered the plan for a moment, and then said, "I think they would say yes. Fanny's recommendation is enough for me, and I also think Miss Huston would be a wonderful teacher. What do you think of the plan?"
"I think it is wonderful," she said. "I have never had much chance to devote myself to studies, and Fanny recommended Miss Huston, so she must be good."
"Have you not met her?"
"No, not yet," she replied.
"I think I have a suggestion," he said thoughtfully, " Could you wait a little while to ask my parents about the plan?"
"If you think it wise . . . " she said hesitantly.
"I do," he said. "And this is why. I think you should meet Miss Huston before you recommend the plan. And I think my parents should meet her as well--which they will, in four days from now, at a dinner at the Westerley's. My plan is this: the invitation is extended to all the family. I shall tell the Westerleys to expect two young ladies to be included in the party--you and Fanny. Once my parents have met Miss Huston, and you as well, they will know her character, and you can broach the subject, being sure that they will not object! What think you?"
"It is a marvelous plan!"she said, tugging at his arm in gratitude. "I should very much like to meet Miss Huston, and I have never been to a dinner party before! How lovely!"
He grinned. "Then it is a date," he said.
She smiled and then said, "I am glad to have met you to-day. I have never had a chance to talk to you before. I am happy I have got to, because I know that Fanny was right about you."
"Right? How so?"
She flushed, embarrassed for the first time in their conversation. She said, somewhat stumblingly, "In that you are--a good cousin."
"Thank you," he said, curious as to her meaning. They were, however, approaching the house, and she released herself from his grasp, and called with a smile, "I lost track of the hour! I must run, as Fanny is waiting for me!"
He smiled, shaking his head. The sprite had escaped his questioning--for sprite she seemed, running off with the quickness of a faerie, her cheerful conversation making him forget the hour, and that he had to be off to the village for some business of his father's. With that last thought, he turned to the house to find some papers.
Chapter Three: Preparations
"What are you wearing to the Westerley's dinner?" Susan asked, as she pulled up her embroidery thread. The two were busy at work in Fanny's East room--Susan stitching her pillowcases, Fanny reading a book of prose.
"I believe I will wear my white dress--from Maria's wedding," Fanny said, "with my cross from William, of course."
"You will look lovely," Susan said, biting her lip. She had yet to decide what she would wear to the dinner engagement, and it was only a day away. Her clothing was mostly very worn, sturdy, clothing from home. Nothing at all right for a dinner party. Nor did she have any jewelry, especially nothing so grand as William's amber cross. Not that she wanted anything so fashionable, but she needed something worthy of society.
"Would you like to borrow the pink gown Julia left me when she moved away?" Fanny asked, as if she was reading Susan's thoughts.
"So very elegant a dress?" Susan asked. "Why do not you wear it yourself; I can go in your white."
"I have always felt awkward in pink," Fanny said, "but it will accentuate your features perfectly."
Susan blushed. "I will accept, but I still think you would look well in it," she said.
Fanny set down the book she was reading. "That I shall never agree to," she said. She looked at Susan's opening mouth, and they both laughed.
At that moment, a knock came at the door. Susan watched Fanny as she stepped to the door, brows knit in a puzzled expression, not expecting to see anyone this morning.
"Ah, Fanny," he said, evidently not noticing the pink of surprise on Fanny's face. "I have something for the pupil," he said, holding up a slim, black book.
"What is it?" Susan said, standing up and crossing the room.
"Poetry," he said. "Strictly for enjoyment." He looked at Fanny and said, "It may be nice for her to have a change from all her studious endeavors and read something for pleasure."
"Tennyson," Fanny said.
"You loaned that book to me during my first year at Mansfield," she said.
"I wondered if you would remember," he said. "I only recollect it myself because as I was reading it this morning I noticed some very feminine handwriting in the margin stating a single word: 'Beautiful'."
"I should not have written in your book, but I was so very moved some of his poems. I thought I had erased all my marks."
"By every means," Edmund said, turning to Susan, "please do write in this book. Books are only improved by such comments. Your sister, you see, is such as scholar as cannot repress her desire to express her feelings. I wish that you may do the same."
Susan took the book in her hands and said as she opened it, "Now I have a task before me! If I write nothing in the book, Edmund will think I am no scholar, and if, by chance, I manage to eek out some thought or other, and manage to write it in the margin, which is by no means a very small space, he is sure to analyze my meaning and corner me into some very literary debate. I do not know that I shall write any thing!"
Edmund laughed and shook his head. "I will by no means take your comments so significantly," he said. "Indeed, if you do not want me to read them, I shall not. I meant only to give you the book as a gift, as something for your enjoyment. Write in the margin, or not, as you please."
"By which he means he is being cordial but will be disappointed if I write nothing," Susan said teasingly.
"No, no," Edmund said. "That is not my intention at all! Fanny, please tell your pesty sister that that is not what I mean!"
Fanny smiled and said, "I think you can take Edmund at his word, Susan. If her says he will not look at the margins, you may believe him."
"If you say so," Susan said. "But it is only from my great trust in my sister that I concede the argument," she told Edmund.
He laughed again and said, "I see that even in victory I am to be defeated."
"Certainly," said Susan. "I am unaccustomed to losing." She smiled and opened the book. "Now, if you shall excuse me, I have some reading to do."
From her peripheral vision, Susan could see Edmund smiling as he closed the door behind him.
Fanny laughed as he shut the door. "I do not think Edmund knows what to make of you," she said.
Susan, engrossed in a poem entitled Move Eastward, Happy Earth, just smiled.
Chapter Four: The Westerleys
Fanny clutched her hat tightly as the carriage bounced. From her seat across the carriage, Susan gave her a nervous smile. Fanny smiled back reassuringly. Their aunt and uncle were in the carriage, so any conversation about their plan was impossible. She almost wished Edmund were
here to soothe Susan--he had ridden ahead on horse--but, then decided she did not. His presence would most probably be upsetting herself, and that would not help anything. She twisted her hat's blue ribbon between her thumb and forefinger as she wondered when Edmund's presence had stopped being reassuring and had started being disturbing. Of course, she immediately realized, it dated from Susan's "persuasion" that she tell Edmund about her feelings for him. Fanny had not only been startled by Susan's persuasion, she had afterward been made to feel conscious of everything she did and said in Edmund's presence.
"Here is the Westerley's estate," announced her uncle Bertram.
"It is small," said her aunt, in a lazy tone, "but good enough for a 'Mr. and Mrs.' Westerley."
Fanny looked at Susan, and they both smiled.
The carriage door opened and they all descended down the stairs. Fanny took Susan's arm as they walked into the house, their aunt and uncle just ahead.
The inside of the house was smaller than Mansfield, but the ceilings were vaulted and white- washed, giving the appearance of space. From an open door on the left, a gentleman and woman appeared. The gentleman, who Fanny recognized as Mr. Westerley, was wearing a stiff black suit, and managed to put a smile on his square face. Mrs. Westerley had a round, red face and wore a striped gray dress that rounded over her bulky figure.
"Good evening," Mr. Westerley said in a formal tone.
"Lord Bertram and Lady Bertram," the woman said, in greeting. "Mr. Bertram and Miss Price, good evening. Miss Price, I believe this is your sister?"
"Yes, this is Susan," Fanny said.
"How do you do, Miss Susan Price?" Mrs. Westerley asked.
Susan curtseyed and then said. "I am very glad to meet you. I have long been wanting to."
"Why, thank you child," Mrs. Westerley said, in a pleased voice. She then motioned to the door from which she and her husband had entered. "Please us in the parlour. I should like you to meet my niece."
Fanny followed the party into parlour, watching Susan with pleasure, as she conversed easily with the Westerleys. Her cheeks were pink with excitement, which gave her a simple beauty which was made elegant by the long lines of her dress.
As they entered the parlour a dark-headed young woman rose from a low settee. She walked toward Fanny. "Good evening, Miss Price," she said. "I am very glad you could make it tonight."
"Thank you," Fanny said. "This is my sister, Susan. Susan, this is Miss Beth Huston."
Miss Huston's dark grey eyes turned to Susan. "So you are the sister of which Miss Price speaks so highly," she said. "I am very glad to meet you."
"And I you," Susan said. "I have heard that you were a governess before you came to live with your aunt and uncle."
"Yes. I had in my care the misses James. I believe the elder, Miss Eliza, is about your age."
"If you do not mind my asking, why did you leave the family?" Susan asked. Fanny saw that she was leaning toward Miss Huston in interest.
"Of course I do not mind. The whole family was moving to Italy to live with the mother's brother. He had a governess for his own children, so my services were no longer needed."
"You must miss them," Susan said. "I know when I left Portsmouth, I was glad to be living with Fanny, but I found the quiet of Mansfield strange after being in so large a family."
"Yes, exactly," said Miss Huston. "I am also from a large family, so it is especially a change. My cousin Richard will be coming home in a week, which I look forward to."
Fanny, engrossed in the conversation, was startled by a tap on her left shoulder. She turned to see Edmund motioning her to follow him. She hesitated, then followed him to a corner window, overlooking the west side of the estate.
"Well?" he said.
"What?" she asked, biting her lower lip.
"Susan and Miss Huston seem to be getting along," he said. "Do not you think?"
"Yes, they do," she said.
"It seems my plan is working," he said, grinning. "Now, all we must do is assure that my parents like her, as well."
"We?" Fanny asked.
"Of course," he said. "One of us needs to be there whenever they speak and assure that the conversation goes well, and that they get a good impression of Miss Huston. Not that that should be difficult. Miss Huston has manners that generally please."
"She does." Fanny looked at Miss Huston, who was smiling at something Susan was saying.
"Shall we make the introduction?" Edmund asked, offering her his arm.
Fanny flushed and ignored the proffered arm. Edmund's eyes looked a little hurt, but she ignored that and walked beside him as they rejoined the party.
A lull in the two conversations made an opening for Edmund. "Mother, Father," he said, "I should like you to meet Miss Huston."
"Charmed," Lady Bertram said.
Lord Bertram shook her hand.
"It is a pleasure to meet you," said Miss Huston.
"Miss Huston," Lord Bertram said, "Your uncle tells me you are from a very large family."
"Yes I am," Miss Huston said, her face brightening. "I have two sisters and four brothers."
"Seven children!" Lady Bertram said in an astonished manner. "Your mother must work very hard."
"Never a harder worker found," Miss Huston agreed. "She awakes at dawn each day to begin all her duties. She always instilled in us children that we must work to earn our keep."
"How nice." Lady Bertram's face showed that she did not think it nice at all.
"Miss Huston?" Fanny said. "Umm-- growing up, did you have a dog?"
"No, I did not. Father always said they were dirty little things."
"Did he?" Lady Bertram exclaimed. "My pug is the cleanest animal! I ask anyone to dare disagree."
"Mother," Edmund said, quietly. "I am sure Miss Huston did not mean to give offense. She did not say that she dislikes pug, but that her father in general did not allow for a dog."
"Of course," Lady Bertram said, turning away.
Oh dear, Fanny thought. That did not go at all well at all. Lord Bertram was talking calmly with Miss Huston, but if Lady Bertram did not approve of her then the plan had no chance of succeeding. She could hope only that the rest of the evening would go better.
Chapter Five: After Dinner Complications
What is wrong with Fanny? Edmund thought as he looked across the dinner table at her. She was disconcerted and had barely spoken a word to him all evening. Then there was the way she had deliberately not taken his arm before dinner. They used to be such close friends. She had always been such a gentle, easily entreated person. Except when it came to certain things she thought were very wrong. Had he done something wrong? he asked himself. He considered everything that he had said and done that evening but could not find anything he had done toward her to reproach himself with. Then why could she not look him in the eye?
"Edmund?" Susan's voice in his ear was urgent.
He tried to pull himself away from his thoughts. "What is it?" he asked.
She had lowered her fork and was staring across the table. He followed her eyes. He saw his mother sitting silently next to Miss Huston. Lady Bertram's face was almost a sneer.
"It is not going well, is it?" he asked.
Susan nodded wordlessly.
"There must be something we can do," Edmund muttered.
"But what? Everything we have tried so far has failed."
"There must be something else. You know my mother. If we can get some interest she and Miss Huston have in common, she will like her."
"We better work fast. The evening is almost over," Susan said.
"I will try my hardest if you will as well," he said.
"Of course," she said with determination.
"The best thing," he said, "is to keep Miss Huston talking about her family."
"But it didn't work earlier," Susan protested.
"I know, but it's the best we can do. There has to be something there of interest to Mother. I just hope we can find it in time."
He could see from the dark in Susan's eyes that she agreed.
When the men met the ladies in the drawing room, Edmund immediately asked Miss Huston if she would come with him--he wanted her to get more acquainted with himself and his mother. Miss Huston looked a little uncomfortable about speaking with Lady Bertram--who could blame her when Lady Bertram so obviously disliked her. But she agreed without quarrel and followed him to where Lady Bertram and Susan sat.
"Lady Bertram," Miss Huston began, to Edmund's surprise. "I do apologize if we have gotten along on the wrong foot."
His mother looked startled. She stared at Miss Huston for a long moment and then finally said awkwardly, "I certainly did not mean to misjudge you."
"Nor I you," Miss Huston said. "In fact, I am predisposed to like you. You see, my sister Rebecca is friends with your daughter Julia."
"Is she!" Lady Bertram said in a pleased tone.
"Yes, they live close to each other London, and their husbands have been friends for a few years, so they were automatically friends themselves. I met Julia when I visited Rebecca last year."
"Indeed!" said Lady Bertram. "And how did you find my Julia? She was always the sweetest girl."
Edmund raised his eyebrows at Susan. She covered her mouth to suppress a giggle.
"I met her only once, but she seemed ladylike in every way," Miss Huston said.
Lady Bertram smiled broadly. "That is the truth," she said.
Edmund, pleased that the conversation was going well, excused himself. Now that that problem was over, his mind moved back to his original worry.
Fanny was talking to Mr. Westerley, and Edmund's father was standing back, listening to the conversation.
"I invited Beth here because there was nowhere else for her to go," Mr. Westerley was saying, very quietly. "Her mother and father struggle to get by, but what with five children in the house, one more would mean just another mouth to feed. Her mother is proud, and would not ask for charity--never--so I decided to just tell her that I was taking Beth."
"She sounds like a good woman."
"The very best," said Mr. Westerley, in an affectionate way that didn't seem in keeping with his stern appearance. He suddenly seemed to notice that other people were listening. "Mr. Bertram, I am sorry, I did not see you come up. I do hope you are enjoying yourself this evening."
"Very much," said Edmund. "We shall have to return the favour and invite you to Mansfield Park soon."
Mr. Westerley smiled broadly. "We would be delighted. If you wait until next week, my son Richard will be able to join us."
"O! Wonderful! Father, would a dinner engagement for next Saturday be amenable?"
Lord Bertram agreed, and so the date was set.
"Thank you for a wonderful evening!" Edmund called. He mounted his horse and watched as the rest of his family were secured in the carriage. Tomorrow, he thought, it was finally time to ask his parents about Miss Huston being Susan's tutor. He knew they would agree to it.
Chapter Six: Rows
Susan had been so sure that her aunt and uncle would agree to Miss Huston being her tutor that when they did not she was speechless.
"It is not a problem of liking Miss Huston or not," Lord Bertram explained calmly. "It is a problem of spending such a large sum of money on something unnecessary."
"Unnecessary!" Edmund cried in a outraged voice.
Susan tried to say something, but her voice was still not under control. She thought that if she opened her mouth only a sob would come out. She was not the crying type of person, and she thought her uncle would only think less of her if she acted so irrationally.
"Susan, dear," Lady Bertram said. She was sprawled across a couch, petting her pug's head. Fanny and Tom were the only two family members at home that were not present. "We do like you, but it is a dreadful lot of money. You do understand, don't you?"
Susan shook her head. She certainly did not understand. Fanny and Edmund had been so sure of the plan's success, Fanny that the sum of money was very small, and Edmund that she needed to be educated.
"We think that being taught by Fanny should be sufficient," said Lord Bertram, firmly. "After all, it has been working fine until now, has it not?"
"Fine is a relative term," Edmund argued. "Susan may be able to get along with the education she is getting now, but certainly is not going to be well educated or learn to enjoy learning."
"That is ridiculous," Lord Bertram said. "You are just overreacting. I had always thought you were the level-headed one, Edmund, but you have obviously not thought this through."
"It is because of me if he hasn't," Susan said, suddenly. "I have been having such a hard time with my studies as late, and when Fanny suggested a tutor, I just jumped at the idea. I guess we should have given it more thought."
Edmund gave her a look that said, "What in the world are you saying?" She looked him back with a silent, pleading, "Please. Let me do this." He gave a slow nod.
They both looked at Lord Bertram who asked thoughtfully, "Fanny suggested it, you say?"
Susan nodded. "Yes. She had met Miss Huston and thought that if anyone could help me really learn it would be her."
Her uncle looked at her seriously. "And are you not learning with Fanny's instruction?" he asked.
"To a point," she said, honestly. "I like listening to Fanny tell about history and books she has read: she tells about them really well. But she cannot tell me every story in a text book. And you cannot learn things like sums in the same way." She could see that her uncle was wavering, so she added, "Plus, Fanny has her duties to my aunt; so she cannot always teach me when I need to study."
"You think you would learn with Miss Huston?" he asked, looking her straight in the eye.
She nodded. "I really think I would."
"Very well," he said. "You may have your tutor." He turned and left the room. Susan looked toward her aunt, but she did not see any signs of argument from her.
Edmund took her arm and they quickly walked out of the parlour and stepped through the front door. As they reached the park, Edmund looked at her with a pleased grin. "Well done, Susan!" he said. "I do not know how you did it, but you did."
"I just told the truth," she said. She took a sudden gay jump. "We did it!" she cried. "I am going to have a tutor!"
He laughed. "I am so happy for you," he said. "O! Here comes Fanny. Shall we tell her?"
"Of course!" She ran to her sister and hugged her tightly.
"They said yes, I take it," Fanny said.
"Father almost said no, but Susan vanquished all resistance," Edmund said teasingly.
Susan laughed. "'I am unaccustomed to losing,'" she giggled, doing a little jig.
Fanny shook her head. "I am glad for you, Susan, but you needn't act silly."
"I know, but I am so triumphal to-day. Nothing can make my mood low."
"How about a stern lecture from your older sister?"
Susan stopped dancing and forced herself to act seriously. "Alright, spoil-sport. I shall be somber, but inside know that I am jumping with excitement."
"I do want to hear all about it," Fanny said, "but calmly."
"What if I tell you as we take an afternoon walk around the park?" Edmund offered.
Fanny looked at Edmund with pursed lips. "With Susan?" she asked.
"No, I think our scholar needs to do some studying today. How is the Tennyson?" he asked.
Susan gave him a grimace. She had enjoyed the first few poems two days ago, but she had not opened the book since then.
Fanny frowned. "I do not-- That is . . . I think I have some things to do . . . for my aunt . . . this afternoon."
Susan watched as Edmund gave Fanny a long look with his dark eyes.
"I will ask Susan about it later," Fanny said hurriedly.
Edmund turned away and walked toward the house.
As soon as Edmund was inside, Susan cried out, "Fanny, how could you be so unfeeling toward him! He obviously wanted to talk to you!"
Fanny shrugged. "I am busy this afternoon. I told you."
"Too busy for a walk with Edmund? You cannot be serious!"
Fanny's voice was hurt. "Susan, please . . . "
Susan, immediately sorry for her words, caught Fanny's arm and put her head down on Fanny's shoulder. "Forget what I said. I am sorry."
There was a catch in Fanny's throat as she said, "There is nothing to forget."
They walked slowly to the house, and by the time they had reached the East room Susan had told Fanny all about the conversation with her aunt and uncle
Chapter Seven: Richard
The employment of Miss Huston as Susan's tutor was perfect from the beginning. Each fulfilled the other's requirements of a good companion. To Susan, Miss Huston was patient and kind--she cared about the subjects she taught, and that made Susan care as well. For Miss Huston, Susan was a quick study and really tried at everything she did. She had a hard time with book learning, but that was made up by her willingness and even-temper.
A little over a week after the dinner at the Westerley's, the Westerleys came to Mansfield for dinner, and it was there that Susan met Richard Westerley. Unlike his cousin, Richard was stubborn, blunt, and sometimes extremely rude.
Susan had studied him at the dinner. There was a very obvious resemblance between him and his father. Both had strong builds and square, jutting faces. Richard was taller than his father, though, and whereas his father had a warm temper, Richard did not.
It was from Richard that the idea first came to Edmund. Richard, for unknown reasons, seemed to take a liking to Edmund. After dinner, Richard stood talking to Edmund in a very boisterous fashion. "But why are not you married, Edmund?" was one of his first questions.
Edmund laughed at the brash youth. Only a young man Susan's age could take marriage so lightly. "I have not found someone whom I like well enough, who likes me, and who satisfies my needs in a wife. I am only to be a quiet country clergyman, you know."
"Ah, but there are hundreds of women in this world," Richard said. "And many, I am sure, that would take you this very minute." Edmund almost interrupted but Richard went on swiftly, "For instance, in this very room there is a young woman who is beautiful, interesting, and--I know you will ask for this one--sensible. Who? You ask. My very own cousin. A little too tiresome for myself, but I dare say she is a perfect match for you!"
Edmund had laughed Richard off, but the idea remained with him. Miss Huston certainly was everything he had ever looked for in a wife: charming, gentle, hardworking, and the list went on. He tried to brush the idea off, but for some reason he could not.
Susan saw that Edmund and Richard were becoming friends, but she had a completely opposite opinion of Richard after her own after-dinner conversation with him. Edmund had been caught in a conversation with his father and Mr. Westerley, and the rest of the party were playing whist across the room. Susan had decided to catch up on her Tennyson and was sitting on a window seat when Richard approached her.
"Miss Susan," he said, "if you would rather read a book than socialize, I will be very vexed."
Susan reluctantly put her bookmark in her page and said, "No, indeed. I was just reading a book of poetry my cousin Edmund borrowed me."
"Indeed?" he said with a yawn.
"I take it you do not like poetry?" she asked.
"I find it monstrous dull, if you must have the truth."
"Dull?" she said. "You cannot find 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' dull."
"I never read it, but I am sure that if I did, I would."
"Tell me, do you always take such a dismissal attitude to anything you do not personally find to your taste?" The words out of her mouth, she was shocked by their bluntness. He did not seem to notice, saying, "I dismiss anything that is not worth my consideration."
She bit her lip against replying with anything uncouth. He seemed to notice and smiled--he had a very friendly smile, she thought. "I am sorry, Miss Susan, if I have offended you. You should know that I have the highest opinion of you. If fact," he added with a mischievous grin, "I have reason to believe that very soon we may be connected."
"Indeed?" she asked, surprised.
"Yes. I am in hopes your Edmund and my cousin Beth have great opinions of one another and will soon have even more."
"What do you mean!" she said.
"I would be very much shocked if Edmund and Beth did not, after some scheming of the part of yours truly, make a match. There! What think you?"
He cannot be in earnest! Susan thought. It was ludicrous that Edmund would even think about marrying Miss Huston! What would come of Fanny then? No! she told herself. It could not be. Edmund must love Fanny, as she loved him!
"You cannot do that!" Susan said.
"And why should I not?" he said brusquely.
"Because it is wrong!" she said.
"My dear Miss Price, why should I worry about right and wrong?" he said. "It will be amusing, and it will please me, and there's an end on it."
"It would not please me," she said quietly.
He sneered. "I say I will do it, and I shall. If you try to get in my way I will--"
"You will what?" Susan asked. "Mr. Westerley, you forget where you are and who you are speaking to. Do not address to me any further in this manner!" She jumped from the seat, abandoning her book of Tennyson, and moved across the room to the whist table, lest Richard follow her.
Chapter Eight: "Scheming"
Two mornings after the Westerleys had come for dinner and Lord and Lady Bertram were out for the afternoon, it rained. Susan shivered in her little sitting her room, half of which had been converted to a school room. The rain was coming down with great gusts, rocking the house as though it were a boat.
"Susan, are you with me?" Miss Huston asked.
Susan turned from the window and gave Miss Huston a guilty grimace. "Sorry. What were you saying?"
"I was just telling you that I will need to leave early this afternoon, as Mr. Bertram and I are expected at home for the afternoon meal."
Susan felt the colour drain from her face. "You-- and-- and . . . Edmund?"
"You really were not listening, were you?" Miss Huston said, with a forgiving smile. "Richard invited him to come look at our library this afternoon. My uncle is thinking of expanding of it, and Richard recommended that Mr. Bertram would be one who knows about books."
"Books?" Susan repeated numbly.
"Yes, books, Miss Daydreamer. Now, I am going to give you the afternoon off, so have a good snuggle by the fire with some poetry, or have a talk with Fanny, but to-morrow morning I expect you to be all here. Alright?"
Susan gave a half nod and bade Miss Huston farewell. As the door closed, Susan stood and begin pacing the room rapidly--she always thought better when she was in motion. She could not believe that Richard had began his "scheming" so quickly-- she had almost convinced herself that it was all talk. Obviously he was serious. She must, therefore, be equally serious in trying to make his plan fail. If only she knew how Edmund truly felt about Fanny. That must be her first move: to corner Edmund and talk to him. Then what came next? She chewed on a hangnail as she thought.
The door opened and Susan turned around to see who was coming in. Fanny entered and, on seeing Susan, said, "What is wrong? You look dreadful!"
"O, it is-- It is nothing," Susan stumbled. "Just the cold."
"Miss Huston told me just a moment ago that she was leaving, but she said nothing about your being sick."
"I-- I did not want to worry her. Truly, Fanny, I am fine. I only need to sit by the fire for a few moments." She shivered with a sudden draft of cold air.
"No, you look truly unwell. You should be in bed."
Susan attempted to protest, but her pleas were unheard. She thus found herself escorted to her room to be trapped in thick layers of eiderdown. When Fanny left to find some soup, Susan thought ruefully that she would have normally found this situation very laughable. But today, of all days, to be trapped in bed-- for Fanny certainly would not let her leave her "sick bed" until at least the next morning-- was unbearable.
Chapter Nine: Anxiety
That Richard chap is not quite so bad once you get to know him, Edmund thought cheerfully, as he stepped through the door out of the down pour. Despite the dampness of his clothing, and the general drabness of the day, he whistled as he removed his overcoat.
He had spent a pleasant afternoon exploring the Westerley's library, had been promised the loan of several books, and had participated in some lively luncheon conversation with the Westerleys. It had been a very satisfactory outing.
As he entered the parlour, a sudden chill enveloped him. He shuddered.
"O, it is you, Fanny! You startled me."
"Susan is ill," she said, her words almost a sob. She shook herself. "I am sorry. I should not have said it like that. I need to be composed."
"Good heavens!" he said. "I will send for the apothecary this moment! Fanny, do not worry yourself. I am sure it is nothing very serious."
"Yes," she said, sounding as though she was trying to convince herself of the fact. "Yes. You are right." She pressed her slender fingers against her lips.
"Bates!" he called.
The door opened and a servant entered.
"Fetch the apothecary at once," he said.
"Very good, sir. For Miss Susan, sir?"
"Yes, yes. Do hurry, man."
The servant quickly left the room. Edmund twisted his hands together, "To think I have been enjoying myself at the Westerleys all afternoon, when I should have been here at your disposal," he said.
"You could have had no notion that this would happen," Fanny said. She lapsed into silence, apparently unable to say more. She sat down on a settee, her face cupped into her hands. Edmund paced a moment and then sat down on a chair a little distance from hers. His mind was devoid of thought; he could only stare ahead. Fanny made no noise except to draw a few deep breaths. He wished he could somehow comfort her, assure her that nothing bad would happen to Susan.
He recalled the first time he had seen Fanny unhappy. It had been a week after her arrival at Mansfield Park. He had found her crying on the attic stairs, and had, for the first time, seen her as a person with feelings. Upon inquiry, he had found that she was homesick-- homesick for her family, especially her favourite brother, William. He had been able to dry her tears and had given her paper to write William. He wished he could help her so easily now.
"I shall call for some tea-- you need tea," he said, grasping the first resource he could think of.
"No, I do not need any, but please ask for some for yourself-- you must be weary."
He gave a small dry laugh. He felt that he could starve all day and would be feel well. It was Fanny that needed nourishment.
It seemed hours later when the front door finally burst open and footsteps were heard in the front hall. Edmund sprang from his chair and rushed into the hall.
"Jones, thank heaven you are here!"
"Where is the girl?" the short, wet apothecary asked.
Fanny, who had been just behind Edmund to meet the apothecary, answered, "In her room near mine in the attic."
"Please lead the way, then."
Edmund took Fanny's arm in his. She limply accepted it, leaning her small frame against his. They walked swiftly, reaching the attic in what seemed a moment.
He and Fanny waited outside the room, their thoughts suspended in motion. The door finally opened and Edmund instantly prompted the apothecary, "Tell us."
"It is nothing very serious," he said in a calming tone. "I believe she has a simple chill because of the weather, which has been aggravated by a lowness of spirits. She merely needs some rest."
Edmund felt his body sag as he heard the news. Thank the Lord, he said inwardly. "May we visit her now?" he asked.
The apothecary nodded, "Just for a moment. I do not want her overtired."
Susan appeared a little paler than normal, but otherwise was quite herself. "I cannot see why I have to stay in bed all day," she complained. "Truly, I am fine."
"Would the doctor have suggested rest if you were fine?" Edmund asked. "Now, Fanny and I expect you to rest all day to-day. You have your Tennyson, and if you grow bored of that, I shall fetch my book of Shakespeare's comedies."
Susan muttered something that sounded to him like, "Ridiculous."
"Susan," Fanny said quietly, "we have been extremely worried about you. Please do what Edmund says."
Susan complacently agreed, and then the apothecary insisted that Edmund and Fanny leave.
Chapter Ten: After the Rain
The next morning the apothecary recommended that Susan remain in bed at least until evening. "If she wishes, she may attend the family dinner," he told Edmund, "but then she must return to bed for the rest of the evening. To-morrow she should be well enough to return to her normal activities."
Edmund deposited his volume of Shakespeare at Susan's side, as well as a mug of milk, and then instructed her to read, drink, and rest, but for no reason was she to get up from bed. She protested loudly, but he deafly ignored her grievances and left to take his morning walk.
The rain of the day before had transformed Mansfield Park into a soggy, limp landscape. The ground had earlier been home to tar-like pools of mud but had now warmed into a somewhat soft carpet. Edmund took in deep breaths of rain-fresh air as he slowly made his way around the park, carefully avoiding any remaining pools of mud.
He made the turn at the far end of the park and suddenly bumped very powerfully into Fanny's right shoulder. He and Fanny both made exclamations of surprise and concern.
"I am so sorry!" he cried. "I should have been looking where I was going. I was just caught in the loveliness of the day."
"No. I should should have been watching, myself."
He grinned. "Well, I suppose we both should have been looking." He suddenly caught his breath. "Since we are both here and both, apparently, going on walks, would you like to--" He stopped, for fear of hearing the word "no" come from her lips. He scanned her confused, wary face, her tight lips, and then his heart paused at the softness in her eyes. He forced himself to continue: "Would you mind terribly going on the rest of your walk with me?"
She replied with a faltering, "N--no." He looked down, crestfallen, and she hurried on, "I mean to say, no, I would not mind."
"You would not?" he said, unable to believe what she had said. "O! Here. Take my arm."
She put her arm gently through his, leaning against him cautiously.
"The apothecary says that Susan will be up and about by to-morrow," he said as they continued to walk.
"Yes, Susan told me," she said. "She is quite in a hurry to be released from her confinement."
"I shall have to send a message to Miss Huston to come back again to-morrow. She sent a concerned reply to my note about Susan's illness." He paused, unsure of what more to say. Fanny did not fill the silence, so he wrenched his mind for more safe conversation. "Miss Huston is really doing Susan a world of good," he said. "When I was at the Westerley's yesterday, she showed me some of her lesson plans for the next few months. Susan will certainly be busy with her studies!"
Fanny did not say anything or even raise her eyes from her gaze at the ground.
She looked up at him, and they both stopped walking, completely still, staring at each other for a moment.
"Fanny, I feel I-- I should tell you something," he said, his voice stumbling, trying to find the right words to say. "You see, it was something I realized, just-- just yesterday afternoon, I think." She was gazing at him, completely silent. "I realized that I-- Fanny, I--"
"No!" The word shattered his speech into hundreds of splintery pieces. She was shaking; she pushed herself away from him with a protective open palm. "Let go of me, Edmund, let go!" He reflexively dropped her arm and stared at her as she hitched up her skirts and ran. He stood motionless, watching her as she ran, and ran. He took in a deep breath. Closing his eyes, he whispered hoarsely, "She does not love me."
Chapter Eleven: Edmund
Susan felt the light of morning tingling her eyelids. "What time is it?" she murmured drowsily.
No one answered, and she opened her eyes to ascertain the fact that no one was there. The room, furnished with bright white furniture and yellow fabric, stared at her blankly. The occurrences of the last two days hit her like a run-away horse. Because of Richard's interference, not only had Edmund spent an entire afternoon with Miss Huston, but Susan had been confined to her bed for two days.
Not that the rest had been completely awful. In fact, if she admitted it to herself, she had been feeling rather worn down. The previous day she had astonished herself by sleeping through the dinner she had been promised to be taken down to.
But she was very angry that no one had woken her up come dinner time. It would have been the first time in two days that she could have observed Fanny and Edmund. Even though both had been in to visit her during the past two days, neither had stayed long enough for her to broach the subject she wished to discuss, and, after the first visit, they had come individually, not together.
She rose and dressed as she thought of what to do first--she had lost two days, after all, since Richard had set his plan in motion. It was true that her illness had kept Edmund from seeing Miss Huston for those two days, but they had exchanged notes, and Susan had much to do to set the plan back.
As she was giving the bow on her left boot a last tug, she decided that first she had best do was to find Edward. Breakfast would not be for another hour or so, but she knew he would be up, as he had always been an early riser.
Edmund was in the library, slumped at a desk, his eyelids darkened with exhaustion.
"Edmund, are you alright?" she said. "You look as though you have not slept at all."
"No, I slept: maybe for two hours," he said slowly.
"But whatever is wrong?"
He did not say anything and his eyes returned to the open page of a book that was open on the desk.
"Something must be dreadfully wrong," she continued, not allowing him to avoid her. "Has Tom had a relapse, or--" she gasped at the thought: "has something happened to William?"
"No, nothing of that sort has happened," he said quickly, relieving her anxiety. "I simply want to be alone."
"But I just want to--"
The two words stung her as though he had slapped her on the face. She stared at him, her eyes telling her that it was Edmund who had said the words, but her heart not wanting to believe it. She had never before heard a harsh word leave his mouth, and so it was impossible to believe she had now.
Though Susan's greater reason told her she should give up and grant Edmund what he wanted, her inner stubborn resolve would not let her. She had never been one to give up easily. When she had lived at home, only persistent determination had gotten her the things she desired and needed. Living with so many siblings, it was easy to be overlooked and neglected. So she drew a breath and said, "I thought we were friends."
He looked up, his mouth gaping with surprise.
"I have only really known you for less than a month, but I thought we had gotten to trust each other. I have worked hard at reading your Tennyson, and I have enjoyed it-- I even started 'The Taming of the Shrew' when I was forced to be in bed for the last two days. I thought when you helped me get Miss Huston as my tutor that you really meant to be my friend, but I see now that you did not."
"Why-- Susan, of course I did!" he blustered.
"No. You only did things to help me, and only it was convenient for you. You won't let me into your life, even to give advice."
"But that is not true!"
"Isn't it?" she said quietly. She turned away and walked toward the door.
"Stop," he said hoarsely.
She turned and waited for him to speak.
"I . . . Susan, I have something to tell you that may hurt you. I did not want to share it with anyone . . . I do not want to injure Fanny in any way."
Fanny. Susan was stunned and silent. Had Fanny and Edmund talked? Was it possible that they had they finally admitted their feelings to each other? "Edmund!" she cried gleefully.
He shook his head. "No."
She blinked her eyes to keep tears from falling. Of course. Edmund's depressed demeanor did not mean that the meeting had been joyful. "What happened?"
"I met Fanny yesterday in the park," he began, "she agreed to go on a walk, and we were talking amicably, but then--" he broke down, his voice chocking. "Susan, I was ready to give my heart to her, to ask for her hand in marriage . . . "
"You do love her, then?"
He laughed wryly. "Yes. So much, it hurts to think about. I cannot believe that after all this time it was only two days ago that I finally realized that I love her. But it is all for naught because does not love me."
"What!" Susan exclaimed. "Fanny not love you!
"She practically heaved my heart into the ocean, Susan. She did not just say no, she ran from me as though I was the devil himself."
"But, this cannot be! It is not true! I know Fanny loves you."
"You are mistaken."
"No, I am not. It is unmistakable."
There were tears in his eyes as he said, "Then why did she refuse me?"
She shook her head, unable to explain. She knew Fanny loved him. But why, then, would run from him?
Chapter Twelve: Renewal of Confidences
Though Susan was glad to have Miss Huston back as a teacher, her presence was unpleasant in many ways. First because of Edmund, who confided in Susan that he was seriously considering her, now that Fanny had rejected him. The second reason was that along with Miss Huston, Richard often came-- his presence was grating, smirking. He often took the opportunity to corner Susan and gloat over his apparent victory. She tried to bear him as best she could and did not loose her temper when with him, but she wished that somehow there could be a Miss Huston without a Richard Westerley. She did not want Miss Huston to leave: even if she tried, she could not quit Miss Huston's services, now that Lord Bertram was convinced of her good.
Three days after her talk with Edmund she finally resolved that she must speak with Fanny. Fanny had been acting distant ever since Susan had been allowed out of bed, accomplishing her everyday tasks, but showing no interest in her normal pleasures, such as talking to Susan or going on a horse ride.
Susan did not look forward to the talk: each time she had addressed Fanny on this subject in the past Fanny had been hurt and distressed. This time could only be worse. Still, she must talk to her-- must learn her reasons for rejecting Edmund.
As she did on the first afternoon she had talked to Fanny about Edmund, Susan timed their conversation. She hesitated twice before deciding on the right time and place: it had to be somewhere where Fanny could not run-- Susan shuddered at the thought of Fanny running from her, but it could happen.
Finally the moment came. Five days after her talk with Edmund, her aunt, uncle, and cousins were away for luncheon. She and Fanny had had a quiet meal in Susan's sitting room. Directly afterwards she broached the subject: "Fanny, have your feelings for Edmund changed?"
Fanny did not start, but she looked at her hands, tears softly falling down her cheeks. "No, my feelings for him have not changed," she said.
Susan had known they had not but was still relieved to hear her say it. "Why did you run away from Edmund when I was sick?"
Fanny looked to the window, blinking tears from her eyes. She did not say anything, and Susan did not have the heart to press her to answer the question. "Fanny, you need to tell him that you love him," she said. "He needs to hear that from you."
"Does he?" Fanny asked, her voiced tinged with pain.
"Yes, he does," Susan urged. "Fanny, please. Do it for me. Do it for Edmund. He loves you so much!"
Fanny's eyes glistened with tears. "I shall try," she whispered.
Chapter Thirteen: Secrets in the Dark
When Susan had asked her to approach Edmund, Fanny had willingly agreed, but the next day the thought terrified her. Not only because she and Edmund had not spoken a word since their walk, but because of what Susan had told her to say: that she loved him. Fanny had never vocalized her feelings about Edmund before yesterday, and then only to Susan. How could she admit to Edmund that she loved him; had always loved him? Especially after the words that were spoken at their walk.
Fanny steeled herself to talk to Edmund that very day-- waiting would only make her grow more frightened. She would speak to him after dinner.
But dinner that evening had a surprise for her when at six o'clock Richard Westerley and Beth Huston arrived. She could only welcome the family's guests and then sit back dumbly.
The dinner was a great success. Miss Huston asked Susan about her reading of "The Taming of the Shrew," which proved to be the topic for the rest of the evening. Susan began to talk about excitedly, and Edmund to quote volubly. Richard complained, as openly as the other two, about "that awful Shakespeare," to which the rest of the party just laughed.
After dinner, in the drawing room, Fanny embroidered as the party continued their debate about the play. Finally Richard had to depart, as he was expected home by his uncle. Shortly after that, Miss Huston said that she should depart. Fanny watched Edmund escort her from the room and gave a sigh as she dropped her needlework. She forced herself to focus on the conversation at the other end of the room. Tom Bertram, who was still recuperating from his illness, was talking to his parents about possibly going to Bath in a month to see if his health could be benefitted. Lord Bertram agreed that it was good plan, but Lady Bertram did not want her son to go away so soon and was trying to convince him to defer the trip for six weeks.
Well, thought Fanny, it is time I went to sleep. She bid good-night to the rest of the party-- Susan having gone up shortly after Miss Huston had left. As she walked along the hall to the stairs, she saw that the parlour door was open and a square of light was reflected on the ground. Then she heard a bumping noise come from the room. Maybe Edmund is still awake, she thought. Well, it was as good a time as any to have her conversation with him. She took in a deep breath and slowly walked toward the parlour.
She was scarcely a foot away from the room when she heard the voices. They were low; she could not make out what they were saying, but she could distinguish whose voices they were. Edmund's and Miss Huston's. She could feel her heart freezing in her chest. Then, at that her eyes focused and she saw them, sitting at the end of the room, Edmund kissing Miss Huston's hand. Tears quietly ran down her face. She turned and mounted the stairs toward her room, knowing she would never have her conversation with Edmund.
Chapter Fourteen: Gloom
Two weeks passed, and preparations for Edmund to move to Thornton Lacey and Tom to go to Bath began. The air in the house was a mode of depression, though it should have been one of anticipation.
Susan watched Fanny and Edmund with futility, knowing there was no more she could do for them. Fanny gave Susan a sketchy report of her encounter with Edmund, which settled her general gloom onto Susan as well. Acting very unlike herself, she cried herself to sleep many of these nights. Both of her dearest friends seemed to have been separated from her, and each other, by an impassable gulf, and it was useless to start more than polite conversation with both.
Fanny grew pale with little riding and much confinement to her room. Edmund acted much as he was accustomed, but without his usual enthusiasm. He was away from the house most of the time, preparing for his departure to Thornton Lacy, and often dining with the Westerleys.
It was in this general gloom that Richard came to stay for the afternoon, Miss Huston having gone to London for the day. Susan, catching sight of him from a distance, tried to slip away for a quiet luncheon in her sitting room, but Richard had eyes like a fox, and immediately found her and caught her into conversation.
"Here you are, Miss Price! Do not attempt to run from me, for you know I am a visitor and ought to be given highest respect," he said, a smirk disfiguring his face.
"I would never dream giving you anything less," she said, with a sardonic smile.
Luncheon was a silent affair, which even Richard's boisterous presence could not alleviate. Not only were Fanny, Edmund, and Susan unusually quiet, but the rest of the party were as well. Lady Bertram was pouting over Tom's immanent departure, and Tom did not speak lest his mother grow upset. And of course Lord Bertram's manner was always stern and quiet.
After the meal, Susan saw Fanny make a silent exit, and tried to do the same herself. But before she could get away she was cornered by Richard, who spent the next half an hour lecturing her about her very ill-mannered behavior.
Just as she was beginning to yawn from boredom, she caught the glad sight of Edmund coming into the hall.
"O, Edmund! Please, do come here!" she said loudly. "I think Richard has something he wants to talk to you about."
Edmund smiled and came toward them. "Do you indeed have something you wish to say, Richard?"
Richard, apparently unaffected by Susan's attempt to remove herself from his society, said, "O, no. I cannot imagine what Susan is speaking of. She and I were just having a pleasant conversation, which I myself would not want to end."
Edmund looked at Susan with a quizzical eye. She gave him a imploring look, and said, "But I was sure there was something. It must have been you, Edmund, who wanted to talk to Richard."
"O?" Edmund said. Then, "O, yes, I . . . forgot. Yes, I wanted to talk to you. But should we adjourn to the library?"
"If you say," Richard nonchalantly agreed.
Susan gave a sigh of relief as they walked away. She hurriedly climbed the stairs and concealing herself in her sitting room, hoping to be left there, alone, for the remainder of the afternoon.
Chapter Fifteen: Hearts Unveiling
Fanny, glad her exit from the dining room had gone unnoticed by the others, had hidden herself away in a quiet office where she sometimes liked to read, as it was a room which was most often vacant.
At first she did not recognize that anyone had entered the library, next door, she was so deeply engrossed in one of her favourite books. Then, of a sudden, she heard Edmund's voice speaking. She looked up at the open door between the rooms and realized that she should have shut it when she entered. Afraid to open a door and leave, lest Edmund discover her, she remained frozen in her seat.
"What is it you wanted to talk to me about?" Richard asked, leaning against a tall-backed chair.
Edmund sat down slowly, aware that his bluff could not go much further. "Nothing in particular," he said.
"Then why did Susan say you wanted to talk to me!" Richard protested loudly.
"I believe she was growing rather bored of your company," Edmund said bluntly.
"Bored!" Richard said indignantly. "I cannot believe that you would say such a thing! She bored of speaking with me! I have never been so insulted!"
Edmund laughed heartily. At first, Richard continued to look offended, but that wore off, and he chuckled himself. He shook his head and said, "I should never have thought it. I suppose there is more to that girl than I first thought."
"There is, indeed," agreed Edmund. "I have the greatest respect for my cousins."
"Even for that mouse, Fanny?"
"Especially for Fanny."
Richard gave him a wry look and then, obviously wanting to change the subject, said, "I hear I am to soon have some great news from your quarter. Tell me, can I give you my congratulations on your betrothal to my cousin?"
Fanny, hidden away in the office, gasped so loudly that she was sure they could hear her. Edmund, concentrating hard on his answer, did not, however. "You are a bit overhasty," he said.
"Am I?" Richard asked. "Indeed, I cannot be."
"But you are," Edmund said. "For I am never to marry your cousin."
"Never!" Richard exclaimed. "This is not true! I know you like Beth, and I know she has a very great opinion of you. Why else should you have been to our estate so often during the last few weeks? You must be engaged."
"We are not," Edmund answered.
"Well, then, you very soon will be, or I shall be greatly vexed."
"I said never, and I meant never."
"I do not understand it," Richard spluttered. "Why should you not marry her?" Then a thought seemed to illuminate his mind: "There is another woman."
Edmund hesitated, and then said, his voice low, "Yes, there is."
Richard's large jaw jutted forward. "Whoever she is, she does not hold a candle to Beth."
Edmund felt a smile of assurance on his face. "She is the best woman I know. Your sister is a wonderful woman, but she cannot compete with her."
Richard, obviously still not convinced, said, "Well, I hope she makes you happy."
A shadow crossed Edmund's face, but he said, "I think we should go downstairs. My father will have been long awaiting our return."
Richard moved to the door, and Edmund followed him. As he was about to close the door, he heard a sound from within. Curious, he called to Richard, "Go on ahead, I need to look at something."
He reopened the door and entered the library. Light poured in from the windows, clearly establishing that there was no one in the room besides himself. "I must have imagined I heard something," he muttered to himself. He stepped back through the doorway, and it was then that he heard light footsteps from behind him. He turned round and, to his astonishment, saw Fanny before him, her face tear-stained and eyes reddened.
"Did you mean what you said?" she whispered.
Startled, he blinked and then said, "You heard?"
She nodded. "I just want to know. Did you truly mean what you said? You are not to marry Miss Huston?"
"What a ridiculous thing to say! Why should I marry Miss Huston?"
She hesitated, then said, in a very low voice, "Because I heard Richard telling Susan so, because of all those visits, but mostly because I saw you-- that night-- in the parlour . . . kissing her hand."
He laughed. "O, Fanny! I was not proposing to her; I was telling her that I did not have any interest in her, and was sorry if I had led her to believe so. I did not want to mislead her or to otherwise pursue her under false pretense. It was a foolish idea to tell her in the parlour, alone, but I did not want anyone to hear." Then he added, "The visits to her home were simply to consult Mr. Westerley about his library. He is genuinely expanding it."
"Then you do love me? It was me you were talking to Richard about and not-- not Miss Crawford?"
"I should be a blockhead if I were to love her any longer. Who can love a stone when a rose is before his face?"
She gave a gentle sigh.
Edmund had gotten this far, and he did not want to go further without asking the next question, painful though it was. "Fanny, I love you, and I wish you to be my wife, but I could never marry you unless your heart was truly mine. Tell me, do you think you can love me?"
Happy laughter burst from her. "I cannot do anything but love you!" she said. "I have loved you for as long as I can remember, and will never cease, though my hope of seeing your face or hearing your voice be nothing."
"Dearest," was the simple word he said as he folded her into his arms and kissed her: a kiss as soft and gentle as the wind.
For a quiet moment they said nothing: just embraced one another. Then they sat down at the table next to each other, linking hands, both wanting to ask more questions, to truly know the other's heart.
"I first noticed something was wrong with you at the dinner and the Westerley's," Edmund said. "You kept pulling away from me, and my heart kept asking why. I kept asking, 'What is wrong with Fanny'?"
Fanny nodded. "I know. It was because I was afraid of feeling too much for you. You kept reaching out: offering me your arm, or asking to go on a walk, but I was frightened that you did not mean it in then way I hoped, that I'd reach back to far, and would be hurt."
"And was that why you said no to my proposal on our walk?"
She shook her head. "By that time it was something different. Miss Huston had been Susan's tutor for almost a fortnight, and I was afraid you were developing feelings for her. I-- from having known Miss Crawford I knew that your heart could be won by beauty. It was the previous afternoon that you dined at the Westerley's, and then when you said that you had learned something the previous afternoon that you wanted to tell me . . . it was too much to bear. I had lost you before, and could not bear to again."
"O, Fanny," Edmund sighed. "And I thought I thought you were simply rejecting me." He was silent for a moment, gazing into her eyes. "I have been such a fool," he said. "For many years I have been a selfish being."
"Do not argue with me, dearest-- for dearest you shall always be. I have been very selfish. Susan told me this the other day: that I was willing to give but not to let others in my life. There is so much to regret: my love for Miss Crawford was purely selfish. It makes me ache to think about how you must have felt, with me confiding my feelings to you, all the while you loving me and suffering for it."
"Do not reflect on the past," Fanny urged. "I can only hurt. From now on, let us only look to the future."
"Yes, you are right. Toward the future we shall look: toward living our lives with our truest and best friend."
Fanny squeezed his hand. "Shall we go tell Susan?" she asked.
Edmund laughed. "Yes! Of course, Susan shall be the first to hear our happy news!"
Chapter Sixteen: Epilogue
Susan took Fanny and Edmund's news with astonishment and delight, and, much to her vexation, many tears. If the wounds of the weeks before had been unhappiness too hard to bear, the joy of this day was happiness that was more than unbearable.
Almost everyone who heard the couple's news greeted it with delight. First, Lord and Lady Bertram and their children. Then, the Westerleys and Miss Huston. The only person who was not happy to hear their news was Richard, but even his disagreeable reception could not spoil Fanny and Edmund's complete happiness in one another.
The eve before Fanny and Edmund's marriage, the two lovers sat quietly on a balcony overlooking Mansfield park. Susan sat nearby them, contemplating the beauty of the sunset and the perfect peace of the couple beside her. She smiled to think that in spite of all Richard had done to ruin the match, and all she had done to make the match, in the end Fanny and Edmund had come together on their own. Some day she hoped to find her own match, and she wished that he would be as true and as suited to her as Edmund and Fanny were to each other.
Move eastward, happy earth, and leave
Yon orange sunset waning slow:
From fringes of the faded eve,
O, happy planet, eastward go:
Till over thy dark shoulder glow
Thy silver sister world, and rise
To glass herself in dewey eyes
That watch me from the glen below.
Ah, bear me with thee, lightly borne,
Dip forward under starry light,
And move me to my marriage-morn,
And round again to happy night.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
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