My dear Fanny,
I beg pardon for the familiarity, but I cannot yet bring myself to call you Miss Price.
I write for two reasons, the first of which will trespass upon your goodwill and patience. I write to ask your forgiveness.
I cannot know if your feelings alone will secure my pardon --will your sweetness grant it, or your justice withhold it? I must importune you further to secure it from your reason.
When last we met, I was to leave you to attend to some business on my estate, after a brief visit in London. I will pain neither you nor myself by further describing my actions. They were low, mean, and despicable. I knew that I loved you, but had not the strength to do what I ought. You thought me unsteady; how right you were.
After that disastrous business, I became a wastrel. I, who had always been careless, became cynical; I, who had always indulged myself, became dissipated. Dare I confess how vehemently, how entirely I blamed Mrs. Rushworth? I blamed her not only for the misery in which we found ourselves, but also for the loss of any opportunity to gain your love.
My sister listened frequently to my recriminations and regrets, until at last, even her sisterly affection wore thin. After one night, where I had dwelt longer on the subject than usual, her impatience could no longer be suppressed. ìHenry, I will not listen to another word about Mrs. Rushworth, unless you blame yourself in the same breath. Fanny is a foolish girl; if only she had accepted you.But you are more the fool for throwing her away.î With that reproach, she excused herself from the room, and we did not meet for several weeks.
I sat for a while longer, not knowing what to think or how to feel. Mary's words hounded me in the days following our argument. I had no peace, and any oblivion I sought was temporary.
Eventually, I could not escape the conclusion of my conscience: even if you had accepted me, Fanny, in time I still would have entangled myself with Mrs. Rushworth. At the moment, the timing of my folly was all that I could regret. If I had not been such the fool as to ruin my chances with you forever, I could have been secure of you and Mrs. Rushworth both. Such were my thoughts, and my regrets, until another thought struck me.
If I had not been such a fool, my sister would also be happily married to the one she loved. I had not considered, then, that my folly had harmed anyone save myself. But Mary, my sister, suffered. I had witnessed it daily, but was too involved in my own misery to perceive it. She loved Edmund, and because of me, she had lost him.
My thoughts then turned to you, the woman whom I had professed to love. I had taken no thought of you in my selfishness. I was in agony, fearing that I had caused you great injury. I determined to reform, that at least you could not mourn the sinking of my character.
My first step was to attempt to withdraw from that circle with which I debased myself. It was not easy. That I was steady in my purpose, you can be assured; that I was as steady in its carrying out I will not pretend. At last, the feat was accomplished, and I was left in London, directionless.
I then applied to see my sister. She seemed surprised to see me, as this was probably the first time I had called on her while sober since the scandal. I apologized to her, both for injuring her with my actions and my thoughtless behavior since then. Forgive me for not repeating her words or sentiments, and please believe that she was much affected, and that we parted on good terms.
My next order of business was to consult an accountant, who could give me an accurate picture of what my debts and assets were. The picture he painted was not pleasant. Not only had my steward been cheating me, but my dissipation had nearly drained my estate.
After that, my discussions with Mary were altogether different in character. I forbore to mention any of my previous behavior which gave her pain, but instead spoke of business, and some of the lighter gossip of London. While speaking of my estate on evening, Mary commented, ìIndeed, there is a gentleman who may be able to help you. Col. Brandon is his name, and they say that he has done wonders with his estate, after his brother left it in shambles. If you like, I can see if I may procure his address for you.î I readily agreed.
My sister did indeed find out his address, and I wrote him the next day. He reluctantly agreed to give me what advice he could. His first words of advice were perhaps the most valuable: An estate cannot be expected to run well without the diligence of the landowner. He further advised that I betake myself to Everingham as soon as was expedient.
I went into Norfolk to make what I could of Everingham. It has not been easy, but Col. Brandon has been a most valuable advisor, even going so far as to secure for me a new, trustworthy steward.
My past conduct I now have cause to further mourn, because I know that it is the source of Col. Brandon's coolness towards me, and the reason that I have never been introduced to his wife.
My estate is clear now, and I spent most of my time here. I have invited Mary to make this her home, but she still prefers London to the country.
I had once hoped that, in steadying my character, I could endeavor to win you, despite my actions. I know that to be absurdity. I can now only hope that by doing so, if Providence again places a jewel in my path, I will not so wantonly throw it away.
Please accept my sincerest apologies for the injuries that I have caused you and your family. I can offer no excuses, no reasons for it, only my most solemn remorse.
All that remains, my dear Miss Price, is to congratulate you upon your betrothal. With your sweetness and steady judgment, I am assured that you and Mr. Bertram will be happy.
The signature on the page stood out for a moment, before the flames turned it to ash. Henry called for his horse. "It's for the best," he murmured to himself.
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