At first Frances had had second thoughts about going to Vauxhall Gardens, considering that her cousin had just died. But Jane, though upset that she was not invited, urged Frances to go--"for how could you visit London with out going to the gardens?"
Frances was saddened to see that Miss Isabella Dellrington would be the "friend" attending Henry and Mary and herself. Once again, the girl looked perfectly beautiful, but now for the first time Frances could hear her talk, could see her manner around Mr. Crawford. A more winning, ardent way of conversing, Frances could not imagine. Isabella was somewhat petty, Frances did not fail to notice, but that of course was only due to her youth.
Mr. Crawford, though rich and handsomly dressed, was not opposed to driving the barouche himself, so the argument of who was to ride in the box with him was soon commenced. Frances was unwillingly brought back to the same situation years earlier at Southerton, when the contenders had been Maria and Julia--certainly not herself, who had been quite ignored, and was forced to sit inside with the mortified Maria. But now Frances and Isabella were the two being considered for the great priviledge; the former expressing her happiness to be seated in any place, the latter very determined to sit in "the beautiful, open air, and with dear Mr. Crawford."
"Well!" laughed Henry. "I am flattered, but why does not Mrs. Bertram sit with me? It would give her a better view of the city."
Frances, nervous, made no reply. Isabella sulked, and Mary soon felt the need to let her own opinion made known.
"Certainly, dear Henry, the air is too cold for one of Fanny's delicate conditions. Why don't you sit inside with me, dear" (to Frances) ", and we can let Miss Dellrington sit in the box, which is much better suited for her."
So the matter was settled. Mary was to sit in the barouche with her back against the window, Frances facing it. Mary supplied conversation enough, often turning her back to happily point out her brother's pleasure to be with the pretty little actress.
"Miss Dellrington is the dearest girl," she told Frances, who had been watching the pair every bit as much as Mary, but with quite different feelings. "I often tell Henry that it is a pity that her brother is so very bad, but I suppose I should welcome even him as Henry's brother-in-law when he joins hands with Isabella."
"Oh!" exclaimed Frances. "So they are already engaged?"
"Not yet," said Mary, affecting to sigh. "But I hope it will be soon, for I'm sure she will be the one to make my dear brother's happiness."
Frances only answered this with silence.
Despite the distractions of Isabella's many charms, Henry Crawford managed to reach Vauxhall in good time. Frances was glad of this--for she found Mary's conversation somewhat disheartening--and even willingly allowed Mr. Crawford to help her out of the carriage."
"And did you enjoy the ride, Fanny?" He asked with a smile.
"Yes, very much, Sir."
"Inside the barouche!" Then in low tones, so as not to be heard by his sister, he said, "You must ride in the box when we go back. I think you would find it more enjoyable."
Mr. Crawford then offered Frances and Isabella an arm, and all four visitors found their way to the Grand Walk, where Mary fell to observing the flowers.
"Why, how can they bloom so in Autumn? I must go speak to the gardeners--surely Greyston's grounds can benefit by a little of their advice!"
Henry smiled as he watched his sister hurry off. She was so anxious to help, even though he knew that he would probably be better off without it.
"These gardens are not like what they were fifty years ago," sighed Isabella Dellrington, happy to be strolling the pretty paths, situated on Mr. Crawford's arm.
"Really!" exclaimed Henry Crawford, laughing. "And I suppose you were alive fifty years ago?"
"No, silly! But I've read about it in books, and I think it would be so very exciting to be accosted by some strange man in a shady lane."
"Well," said Mr. Crawford, with a smile to Frances, "I find that a little odd, don't you, Mrs. Bertram?"
Isabella, finding herself being teased, burst in, "Well, yes! But the thing most fun thing about it would be to be rescued by a valliant, daring man!"
"Oh, I understand," answered Mr. Crawford good-humouredly, "But I hope you do not go out walking lone tonight, Miss Dellrington, for I do not know of any "valliant, daring" men!"
Isabella only made an angry face. Soon, the subject of poetry was brought up; the actress, soon recovered, gushing over all the romantic men found in verse.
"And just what type of man do you like best?" smiled Mr. Crawford.
"Oh! That is easy! "I want a hero: an uncommon want.""
"Don Juan?" he exclaimed with a laugh. "I cannot belive that a nice young lady would ever care for such a rogue!"
"Per la vita mia!" she cried, "Rogues are such darlings! And surely , Mr. Crawford, you must be aware that you are the very essence of Don Juan!"
"Am I?" laughed Henry. "And how is that?"
"Why, the Don Juan is a rather dashing man, who is always involved in dangerous love-affairs."
"I don't think you paint too flattering a description," said Mr. Crawford, somewhat gravely.
Miss Dellrington smiled. "How very modest of you, when you know that most ladies would find that charming!"
"But not all ladies," said he, significantly.
"True," mused Isabella, "but I think that those ladies would have to be deadly dull!"
"I don't know," said Henry after a pause. "And besides, if I were the Don Juan I'd have to say that:
"My days of love are over; me no more
The charms of maid, wife, and still less of widow,
Can make the fool of which they made before"
And I don't think I quite believe that!"
Frances was not dull, and the quote didn't pass by her unnoticed. Still, she was quite shocked at Mr. Crawford and Miss Dellrington for talking of Byron's Don Juan. Even after she was married, Frances had never ventured to read the improper poem. "And for Mr. Crawford to discuss it, to quote from it, with such a young lady," thought Frances sadly, "is not right. Is is very wrong, I am sure."
Soon, to her happiness, Mary came back, keenly surveying the group.
"Well, Henry!" she cried, a mysterious look in her eye. "And where do we go now?"
"I don't know. Perhaps the South Walk. Would you like that, Fanny?" he asked, drawing her arm in closer.
Frances didn't answer, or if she did, it had been too quiet. She had no preference, but it was apparent that Mary did, for a frightened look appeared on her face, and she exclaimed, "No! Not there, dear Henry. I mean," continued she, regaining some of her usual composure, "that I don't think it would be for the best."
"What is wrong with that?" smiled her brother.
"Henry, we musn't. I have seen an old acquaintance there--surely you must know?..."
It was obvious that he did know, for the walk was quickly forgotten, and dinner was proposed. Despite the gallant attentions paid to her by Mr. Crawford, and the thinness of the ham, Frances could only give thought to the abrupt turn from the South Walk, the mysterious "acquaintance." She fervently wished all to be well and innocent, but the alarm that found its way onto the usually calm faces of Henry and Mary's could not but tell her otherwise.
When they were finished, and walking back to the barouche, the Countess hurried up to Frances.
"Oh, Fanny!" she exclaimed. "I'm sorry if we've frightened you about treating this matter so mysteriously, I mean about not walking the South Walk. Surely you must know how vexing old neighbors can be; how the old ladies chatter on and on! I think it was the only thing to do to preserve our sanity!"
Frances smiled, and told her friend that she understood perfectly well. Of course she did not believe the tale. The aquaintance couldn't be an old chatting neighbor, for Frances knew that it would take a lot more than that to move Henry so much.
Ever since his sister's warning, Henry had lost a good deal of his smiles and laughter. He walked back to the barouche fairly silently, even while distracted by Miss Dellrington's ambitious attempts for his attention. This time when he announced that Frances was to ride in the barouche box, his plan was not contradicted. However, when percieving the extreme agitation marked upon Frances's face, he checked himself, and began to converse again.
This helped Frances a great deal, but she was still nervous--nervous to be handed up by Mr. Crawford; nervous to be so near him. Henry saw this, and most certainly wasn't offended by it. Her behaviour was so in character, so charming to his ardent heart. Of course he couldn't be made upset by her nervousness, even if it had been out of dislike for him--of which Henry Crawford was much too perceptive to know that this certainly was not the case. He asked her many a question on the ride back, delighting in hearing Frances's sweet and true--if too short--replies.
"Such a beautiful night this is," said Henry as they were driving across Westminster Bridge. "Look how still the Thames lies; and yet in a month, winter will be here. It is sad how things come to an end."
"Yes," shivered Frances. "It is very cold already."
"Cold?" murmured Henry, awaken from his thoughts. "Oh, yes. You are cold. I'm so sorry, dear Fanny. Here, take my coat."
Frances put her arms out to take it, but Mr. Crawford had already wrapped it about her shoulders himself, his free hand then resting on her arm for a moment. Frances's heart fluttered, and she gave a little start, causing Mr. Crawford to return his hand to the reins with a sigh.
"So," he resumed after a few minutes of silence, "have you been in better health? I believe the last time I saw you was when I returned the necklace."
"Sir," said Frances, her cheeks colouring, "Sir, I must tell you about that, I mean the necklace. I did not mean to wear your necklace. Indeed I thought I had given it back."
"Oh, I suppose not," said Henry good-naturedly, yet very struck by Frances's abrubt explanation, and her willingness to so exert herself.
"I thought I had," she murmured, not a little mortified. "I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of it."
Mr. Crawford's silence after this further convinced Frances of his kindness. Of course she did not see the small smile that was hovering about his lips, but even if she had, she would still stand firm to her belief that Henry Crawford had changed very much. He was very charming--yes, he had always been so--, but now there was a caring that accompanied it, completely melting away the last of Frances's former coldness towards him.
"I am sorry to hear of your cousin's death," he said to her after a while. "How does your family take it?"
"Well, everyone at Mansfield is very much shaken by it. I do not know of Julia or Maria, though."
A pause only followed.
"Were you aware that my cousin Maria is in town?" Frances ventured to ask.
Henry looked at her with surprise. After a few minutes he finally assented in a very quiet way that he was in fact aware.
Frances didn't ask any more--didn't care to---for she soon guessed that his affections were only held for herself, and herself alone. Maria he certainly had gotten over, she imagined, and he could not feel anything for Miss Dellrington. No, his frequent comments driving back regarding the girl's silliness whenever he heard her giggle surely proved that. So the ride which she had so worried over had been sweet. Indeed she did not realize that it was over when he helped her out of the box. A too-short trip it had been, she thought, but at least the memories of it, and Mr. Crawford's parting look would give her enough to live on for days.
Living with such a change in feeling, and so deep a regard, Frances often forgot that she was heiress to Mansfield Park. But Jane Price, probably even prouder than her sister-in-law, did not forget, and made rather frequent comments on the advantages of the rich.
"It will be nice, Mrs. Bertram," the lady sighed wistfully. "To be mistress of such a glorious estate would be wonderful. I've never seen Mansfield, of course, but William has told me about it. Beautiful place--I think I'd even prefer it to the sea!"
"Oh, but I don't know how I can do it all on my own." Indeed Frances trembled over the thought; managing the house alone would be almost as bad as living there alone.
"Then you plan to get married?" asked Jane, at the same time raising her eyes above her work. "Oh, I wouldn't," she honestly said, "but perhaps it would be better for you. Is anyone intent upon asking you?"
Frances did not answer, but a reflective smile was brought to her eyes. Surely Jane must be aware by now of the affection between herself and Mr. Crawford, so why should she take any pains to hide it, and lie about it?
"Yes," nodded Jane. "I can see there is, and indeed I know who he is, too. You are fortunate to win his regard, Frances--almost as fortunate as he is to win yours. You two are so perfectly suited for eachother. Indeed I even think you have changed since you first came here; he brings something out in you--and you, him."
Frances blushed, for she knew it was true. Their penchant was no secret now, for Frances had been in Mr. Crawford's company countless times now since Vauxhall. Whether watching Hamlet again, or being graciously attended to at a dinner at Greyston, Frances was each day becoming more concious of Henry's love for her. The things he told her had been her solace during doubts of the next days--doubts that never held for long. She remembered it all, like the time he told her that he was sure Lord Byron must have seen her before writing 'She Walks in Beauty.' "It is you to the very end," said he, "from "the smiles that win" to the "nameless grace." And surely," he smiled, "my Fanny, if any one, has "a heart whose love is innocent!"
"Oh, no," interuppted Lord Dellrington, who was dining with them that evening; not a little angry that these fine addresses were not being paid to his sister, where he was sure they were more deserved. "It's not like her at all! And does Mrs. Bertram boast a "raven tress"?"
"No," mused Henry. "But that is the only place Byron goes wrong. I have always preferred a lighter-haired girl."
Lord Dellrington ventured to contradict this, saying that all the "best" girls he had met had had dark hair--"Spanish black"--, but Henry still professed that the sweetest of the goddesses had been endowed with curls of brown or blonde--"but brown," he made sure to point out, noticing Frances' demure discomfort, "is what I like best."
Such attentions could notgo unnoticed or unwanted by Frances, who was beginning to see her ideal future woven out for her. But her stay in London would be coming to an end soon, for Jane and William would sail at the end of the month. So one week would be all that she had left, and would have to prove just how strong Mr. Crawford's affections really were.
Henry Crawford, too, had realized this, and yet was hesitant to bring the flirtation to an end. While he was expert on the subject of winning fair ladies's hearts, his experience of winning their hands was a different matter. Indeed, the prospects of matrimony had always seemed grim to him, living among and witnessing such failed marriages as his uncle's, and the Grants's. Of all the dozens of ladies he had wooed in his career, there was only one he had ever cared to marry--the same to turn him down, and the same he wished to ask again. But then Frances had changed so much since then. Though without losing her hesitant manner (of which Henry was glad of, for he found her timidity to be one of the most endearing things about her), she had been more free in his presence as of late; and without actually proclaiming it by word, her smiles told Henry that the affection was mutual.
But he knew that Frances would be gone soon, and that he would probably be seeing her for the last time unless he stepped in. He, of course, meant to do so, and went to the house to communicate his intentions before it would be too late.
Jane smiled as she saw Mr. Crawford coming up the narrow walk. The determined brow was too much to be lost on her keen eyes. She excitedly rushed up to Frances's room, exclaiming, half out of breath:
"Frances! Mr. Crawford is here! You must get the door, for I have been baking, and am quite out of sorts. Well, look at me!"
Frances peered up from her book, silently noticing that her sister-in-law looked just fine (and never baked), but went down anyway.
"Oh, Mr. Crawford!" she exclaimed upon seeing him. "How are you?"
"Fine, thank you," he replied. Noticing her bright looks, he added, "but not so fine as you, Fanny. Why, I have never seen you looking so well!"
Frances blushed, and checked her smiles, lest they might make her appear too eager. She wordlessly brought Mr. Crawford to the drawing room, where she offered him a chair. This, he declined, saying that he was much too restless to be able to sit. After pacing the floor once or twice, he glanced at her and addressed her thus:
"So you are to leave London?"
"Yes," sighed Frances. "In three days' time."
"And what do you plan to do after that?"
"I'm not sure--what I've always done, I imagine: live quietly."
Henry now sat down next to her and took her hands. Upon meeting his glance, Frances could perceive a good deal of pain in his eyes. "Have you ever wondered what I would do?" he asked abruptly.
Frances was startled, and looked at him sadly. "Sir, you will live the same as before; with your society, your fame. Surely all you need to be happy--excepting God--is in London."
"Yes," agreed he. "But everything will be gone in three days."
Frances took her hands from his grasp and brought them to her burning face.
"Dearest Fanny," continued Henry as his hands followed hers, brushing the brown curls from her tear-stained face. "You must know how much I love you, how much I need you. You say I have all I need in London, but how will fame, and the affection of silly girls ever give me even half the happiness I would get by being joined with a dear, virtuous soul? Fanny, I cannot imagine being married to anyone but you. Decline me if you will, but know that I will be living a solitary misery!"
"Oh, Sir," cried Frances, "I don't wish that. But your misery would be only second to mine--to be knowing that I have caused such pain, and to be living so!"
Frances broke down. Henry, in surprise, calmed her. "Did I hear you say that?" asked he quietly. "Oh, Fanny, would it be too wrong of me to ask for your hand a second time?" Seeing Frances's eyes brighten, he went on, "I know you must think ill of me, Fanny, but would you refuse to be my wife?"
"Oh, no, sir," whispered Frances happily. "Do you mean you're asking me to--to marry you?"
"Yes, my darling girl," answered Henry with a laugh. "Do you object?"
In the same soft tones, Frances answered that she didn't object at all.
"You don't know how glad you have made me," he smiled as he brought her hands to his lips. "Fanny will finally be my wife--my dearest, sweetest Fanny!"
Frances, who had been dwelling in perfect bliss, sat silent for a few moments, but suddenly was awakened by a pressing thought.
"What is it, Fanny?"
"My uncle! Sir Thomas! He never will agree to our marriage."
"Oh, but he will!" smiled Henry. "Don't worry over that, Fanny! Must you listen to him anyway?"
"I suppose not, but I should settle things with him before it is finalized."
"And when will that be?" cried Henry, his smile fading. "You are not leaving?"
"Oh, but I must. I can't stay here alone, you know, and I won't be able to marry for at least another year," she ended with a sad smile.
"Yes," sighed Henry, "I suppose you're right. But it will give me more time to finish things here--to make myself more worthy of you."
"Don't say that!" exclaimed Frances with a smile. "You are worthy of me--too much, I'm afraid."go unnoticed or unwanted by Frances, who was beginning to see her ideal future woven out for her. But her stay in London would be coming to an end soon, for Jane and William would sail at the end of the month. So one week would be all that she had left, and would have to prove just how strong Mr. Crawford's affections really were.
To accuse Jane Price of spying would be too hard; but listening could, in this case, pass as truth. From her convenient position in the hall, she could hear most of the passionate declarations in the drawing room without much difficulty at all.
She rushed out as soon as she heard Mr. Crawford getting ready to leave, and hurried into the room where Frances sat alone. Even if she hadn't managed to overhear, Jane would have still been able to tell that some event of major importance had just passed from the happy silence Frances was sitting in.
"Oh, Frances!" exclaimed Jane as she ran to the couch. "Did he--has he..."
"He has asked me to marry him," breathed Frances, her smile remaining.
"And you said yes?"
"Oh, of course! I have to settle things with my uncle before it's finalized, but that will work out."
Jane warmly congratulated her, the whole time pouring out her praise of Mr. Crawford. "Oh, Frances, I envy you so--to be the wife of London's great celebrity. You will be able to host parties, and social events!"
At this a shiver came across Frances. "I had forgotten! Oh, I won't have to do that, will I?"
"Well I should think you would!" cried Jane in surprise. "Most ladies would love to be in your position--I would. Yes, I should think that you will have to; unless Mr. Crawford decides to give up his acting, which would be very unwise of him."
Frances wasn't the only one announcing the engagement. Henry Crawford thought it best that he let his sister know before she heard it from another source. The last thing he wanted was to turn his sister against him. So he told her all, watching her smiling face with not a little disdain.
"I told you it would work!" she proudly exclaimed after he had finished. "I knew you could persuade her this time with my help!"
"Your help?" burst out Henry with an irritated laugh. "You helped me the first time, and look what came of it!"
"Phoo, Henry!" smiled Mary. "You can at least make me think that I helped! So when is the date?"
Henry then explained that the engagement was not quite set yet, as the acknowledgment of the uncle was to be needed by the future bride. "But I have Fanny's answer," he continued, "and that is all that matters."
Upon hearing this Mary sighed. Henry glanced at her grave face and grew a little annoyed.
"Oh, Mary, if you want to believe that you won her for me, then do so!"
Mary raised her eyes in mirth. "Silly Henry! Do you think I would let so little a thing upset me? It's just that I don't know what I'll do when you're gone."
"You'll have the Count, and your balls, and your manor. You'll get along fine, Mary!"
"Yes, I suppose so," she anwered sadly, trying to smile, but pitifully failing. "But I do so want a friend to talk to--don't you know, dear Henry, that you are the only one that truly understands me?"
"Come, Mary!" laughed Henry. "You'll find a new friend easily. Why, how about Miss Dellrington? She may be cross with us now, but I dare say she'll think the world of you after you manage to find her a husband that is richer and more handsome than me! Don't worry, Mary--you'll be fine!"
"Ah, you don't understand," murmured she.
But Henry did. He sincerely pitied his sister, and silently lamented the unjust punishment her whims and strong ambitions had brought her. Indeed, her happiness was almost a blight to his; making him only feel daily gratified for his clear vision and unaffected heart. Poor Mary! If only she could be as happy with her Count as Henry felt sure he would be with what he deemed his angel.
All this time Frances had been so caught up in her thoughts that she had quite forgotten about telling William of her engagement. "But surely he must know," thought she. "Mr. Crawford has visited us every day--will tonight also. I'm sure he has at least suspected it."
And it turned out that he had--due to the excited exclamations of his wife. Upon seeing Jane's smiles, he could not but be glad with her at first. But after some thought, the hurried engagement struck him as odd--and suspicious.
So he was solemn when he heard out his sister's happy information; his eyes grew dark, and his smile faded.
"Oh, William!" cried Frances anxiously. "What is it? Is something wrong--did I make the wrong decision?"
"I don't know. I still know so little of Mr. Crawford."
"Well, I know enough."
Frances felt herself growing faint. Did William know, then, of Mr. Crawford's associations with their cousin?
"But, William! I know it was scandalous of him, but it's done!"
"Scandal? What was that?"
Frances now saw that she had guessed wrongly, and tried to cover up her little faux paus. But William saw her blushes and trembling, and demanded to know what had happened.
So with despondancy, Frances was obligated to tell the whole story--from Henry's flirtations with her cousins at Mansfield to the final, most disagreeable episode. She looked at her brother in suspense, feeling sure that he would urge her to break the engagement.
"Was that it?" he exclaimed after Frances was finished. "It was bad of him, to be sure, but all young men will get into scrapes at some points of their lives. As you said, it's done. That was redeemable, but I don't know about his other crime. I can only wish it!"
"crime? What are you accusing him of?"
"Of being a fortune hunter!" cried William angrily. "Why else would he contrive to secure you so shortly after it became known that you are heiress to uncle's fortune? Only think, Frances--an ambitious man, and a charmer by nature, would be just the sort to do a scoundrelly trick like this!"
The tears came to Frances' eyes at this. "You are too hard, William! Mr. Crawford loved me long before I knew of this awful inheritance, I think. Yes, he even loved me at Portsmouth! You shake your head, but I can tell you he did!"
"Oh? Then why did he go elope with cousin Maria? i don't wish to sadden you, Frances, but you must consider everything--especially now."
Frances glared at William and rushed up to her room, where she fell to sobbing. Of course she knew that William was just being too protective of her, so why did she almost believe him? Frances tried to weigh her own evidence of Mr. Crawford's esteem against William's thin accusation, but her mind was too much out of sort to decidedly settle it on her own side.
She bitterly wept over the posibility of a solitary future, but then scolded herself. It was not like her to despair so--and especially over a man like Mr. Crawford. Still, she could not help but love him, and with a true, lasting love she had never before felt. Ah, yes! It was lasting, and cold would have to be the heart of Henry Crawford were he to so win her and charm her for the dull, petty prospect of a fortune. But perhaps William had been wrong. Frances sat up and began to dry her tears and pin up her curls. Mr. Crawford was still to come that day, and Frances happily considered it a chance to estimate the state of his love for her, for the engagement was not final yet.
Mr. Crawford was the first person Frances saw as she came down the stairs. Henry had just finished talking to his sister, and was made upset by Mary's saddened pleas, so it was with some difficulty that he managed to keep a smiling face.
"Dear Fanny!" he exclaimed the moment he caught a glimpse of the skirt edge of her black gown rustle down the steps. "How are you?"
Frances gave a little smile and stopped at the second step, from where she glanced at his face. She could instantly sense that something was wrong. Even the great actor could not fool Frances, who had since grown quite expertise on the observation of Mr. Crawford's person. She took his low spirits to heart; without anymore reason than William's suspicions and the hasty conclusion of her mind, Frances attributed his state to his fear of being trapped with her for life.
"Fanny," Mr. Crawford said, taking her hands in his, and looking up into her eyes. "Something is wrong. Tell me what it is--I'll do anything for you!"
"Oh, nothing, Sir," answered Frances stiffly. Her thoughts whirled inside her head, and in fear of resurrecting her tears, she impulsively squeezed Mr. Crawford's hands; and then frightened by her actions, loosed them from his.
The act took Henry Crawford by surprise. For the first time, he was given the idea of how strong Frances' love really was: stronger than even his confident mind had reckoned. He saw her look of fright, and just as impulsively, gathered Frances in a tight embrace.
"My dearest Fanny," whispered he, his cheek close to hers. "I fear I may be in danger of loving you too much!"
Frances' heart beat rapidly at this. Out of the same ardent affection she felt the need to reply, but suddenly the hall doors were flung open, and a small group of people seized upon the sight of the pair.
"Frances!" cried Jane Price, both shocked and ammused at the scene. "I'm sorry if we've intruded upon anything!"
This was too much for Frances. Unable to utter a word, she felt dizzy, and her frame required the support of the rails to keep her from falling. Mr. Crawford gallantly helped her to the bench at the side of the stairs, and straightened out his coat.
"Ma'am," he addressed Jane after he was recovered. "I apologize for this--I sincerely do! Believe me, it wasn't my intention to do that sort of thing!"
Jane only laughed. "Oh! don't! Well not to me, at least--I found it charming! But maybe our guests didn't. Mr. Crawford, I'd like to introduce you to the Honourable Mr. John Yates and his wife."
Frances was not so ill-disposed as to not take any notice of this. Indeed, her lowered head now flew up at the sounds of the names; and sure enough, her cousin Julia was standing before her.
But the most affrighted face probably had to be Henry Crawford's. He paid his greetings to them admirably, even if there was obvious coldness between him and the couple.
"Wonderful!" cried Jane happily. "So you are already acquainted with them, Mr. Crawford? Come--come into the drawing room: you can talk of the Mansfield days!"
"I don't think that will be possible, Ma'am," said Henry quickly. "I really must go."
Even Jane's surprise and pleas could not make him stay. After one more glance at Frances, he was gone.
"Well, Fanny," said Julia Yates once the door closed. "I declare I have never seen anything so shocking!"
Frances blushed and peered up at her cousin. Julia hadn't changed much since the last time her younger cousin had seen her, before she had married. Her light hair and pretty features were little faded, and were now dressed up with all the smart fashions the Hon. John Yates could afford. He, apparently, adored his wife, but Julia didn't dote on him. No, she rarely glanced at him; and though Frances had been too upset to notice, Jane certainly caught Julia's stare that followed Henry Crawford to the door. Poor Julia! How could she endure first losing him to her sister, and now to her unaccomplished cousin?
"Shocking?" Jane exclaimed with a laugh, when it became apparent that Frances could not, or would not answer. "What was so wrong with that? They are engaged now, you know. (Come, let us go into the drawing room.) It must be so very nice to see your cousin again! This is happy, indeed!"
"Then you are engaged to that man?" cried Julia angrily. "Of all men to want to marry, Fanny! Why on earth did you agree to marry such a scoundrel?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Jane. "I must go now--to let you talk among yourselves. Goodbye!"
Frances watched Jane leave the room with sadness, for she knew she would have to be confronted alone now. Meanwhile the Yates were heartily engaged in talking of Henry Crawford's faults.
"Such a low, shameless man," muttered Julia, happily indulging in Frances' mortification.
"Certainly," agreed her husband. "And who ever called Crawford a good actor? I declare he is quite ill. Terrible! Why, I have seen him in Hamlet, and I know that he does not act the part quite boldly enough."
"Oh," said Julia, ignoring her husband. "Well I hate him because of what he did to poor Maria; and it hasn't ended!"
"What?" exclaimed Frances, finally finding the power to speak.
"Well surely you must have heard of it?"
Frances answered that she hadn't.
"It's very bad of him!" laughed John Yates. "But then I wouldn't put it past him. Crawford doesn't keep to morals as far as ladies are concerned! Ha, ha!"
"Oh, what has he done?"
"Should we tell her, m'dear?" asked Mr. Yates of his wife.
"Yes!" Julia cried. "If she is engaged to him, she must have an idea of his character already!"
"I'm not engaged to him yet," said Frances, endeavoring to remain calm. "I mean it isn't final. But will you tell me, please?"
"Very well," sighed Julia. "Mr. Crawford ruined poor Maria's name."
"Oh?" asked Frances in a relieved tone. "I knew about that."
"No," smiled Julia. "That is not all (though I should think that it would be bad enough!--I'm amazed that you don't!). We all know of their eloping years ago. He left her, and the episode quite destroyed her happiness. Poor Maria! Indeed she is not recognized in society as much as she should be--and all because of him. Well, Yates and I were visiting her two days ago, and who else should happen to walk in but Mr. Crawford?"
Frances' spirits quickly sank. The tears came to her eyes now, and she could do nothing but hear out the rest.
"I was so shocked to see him!" resumed Julia. "I asked Maria how he could dare to show his face there again, but she only smiled, and told me that he comes often. And every week!"
"I--I don't believe it!" exclaimed Frances in a tearful whisper.
"Yes, it is unfortunate, but we saw him then, did we not, Mr. Yates? That was why he was in such a hurry to leave when he saw us. He should have been! Such an awful, rakish man--I declare, I quite abhor him."
A few minutes later, Jane Price entered the room carrying a tea tray. She happily invited the Yates to tea, but they declined, haughtily saying that they had other things to do.
As they were leaving, Julia hastily went over to the despondent Frances and sat down.
"I suppose that you might like to know that my father is engaged?" she said with a smile. "To that West girl--I certainly don't care for her, but I suppose that it doesn't much matter. After all, it won't affect me!"
And it didn't affect Frances much, either. What was the loss of fortune compared to the loss of the person she loved more than any other? She was glad when Julia left; Frances would be left with the freedom of her room, which she would not leave for hours.
To enter into her room again, to see the familiar objects once more that she had last seen while in anticipation of perfect happiness, gave Frances a sharp, biting pain. Blinded by her tears, she fell upon her bed and gave way to sobs.
So Mr. Crawford had been visiting Maria Rushworth all along! William had been right about the money. It all became clear to Frances. Henry, with a genius for acting, had managed to charm her unmercilessly for the estate, and when safely married, would lose all his passionate talk towards her to save for his mistresses. Mistresses--yes, Frances now believed that Henry truly was a rake; that his flirtatious nature would even overrule his strong passions. Had he truly loved her? Frances could only guess, arguing with herself vehemently. She remembered the things he had told her, the sweetness of just an hour ago. "But he is so very clever," she thought miserably, "and how could I ever have imagined that he was in love with me?"
It wasn't that she didn't want him to be in love with her--indeed, she deeply wished it; and do what he might, Frances could never love anyone so much as Henry Crawford. But she saw herself as the dupe in the situation. She, if anyone, should have caught his tricks. Her morality should have guided her feelings. But Frances was fervently thankful that she had learned the truth now--as cruel as it was--, for to live with, while being hated by Henry Crawford would be even worse than being daily ignored by Edmund Bertram.
Now if only she could learn to forget Mr. Crawford! He had made too much of an impression on her. Frances would not have to see him much now; two days was all she had left of her stay in London, but then the last day would throw her into another meeting with Henry. "Oh, I can't see him again! I cannot tell him--it would be too hard!"
She searched her mind for a plan to avoid him. It then occurred to her that her suitor would be busy on the morrow "on business" (what his business was, Frances could only guess), and it would not be a great difficulty to leave a day early; no carriages were to be sent from Mansfield this time, for William was to take her home, due to his brotherly concern that she might not have to sit for hours more with the parson Dearston.
Her plan settled, Frances was happy to escape Mr. Crawford's painful presence, yet miserable when it hit her that she would never again see his face; would never more have his ardent eyes fixed on hers. The thought brought back all her former sorrows, and made her wistfully look back to that sweet fortnight when she believed that she was the object of Henry Crawford's strong affection. But it all had been false; no more real than Mr. Crawford's acting. The curtain was closed, yet Frances wished it to reopen, longed to relive the events over and over as she had seen Hamlet so many times. But she could not--it wasn't true. In choking sobs, she reached for the book of Byron's poems, and opened it to the rose. When We Two Parted.--how could he have sent that one to her? She reread it silently, each passionate verse bringing only more heartache.
"When we two parted
In silence and tears,
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this."
"Ah, if only!" she thought. "But it was the opposite--he was warm, he was good: it only made the news harder!"
"The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow--
It feels like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame."
"Shame. I'll feel shame for still loving him--but how can I stop?"
"They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me--
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well:--
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell."
Frances felt her head grow heavy, and was forced to rest it upon her pillow. She continued:
"In secret we met--
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears."
"Yes, silence: but it always has been so with me, so why do I feel so, so confined now? Long years? I have to see him--but I cannot!"
For the first time Frances felt the depth of the poem in the same sort of state the author must have been in when he wrote it. But even Lord Byron, with his supposedly undying passions, had been unfaithful to more than one poor lady. And it was the forgotten woman who felt the most pain! To group Henry Crawford with Byron would have made a shocking and distasteful comparison to Frances even two months ago, but now she was greatly soothed by it. Then perhaps he had loved her--even were it but a day! Though she imagined that his love could never match hers, Frances was still calmed. Helplessly taking the rose in her fingers, she was whisked away to sleep.
Jane Price was a little surprised to hear that Frances meant to leave a day early, but not offended. She saw that her sister-in-law was in a bad state the next morning, and attributed it to her cousin's visit. Jane, naturally, had contrived to hear most of the conversation, and was aware of the shock it had put on poor Frances.
"Sister, dear," she said as she helped Frances pack her trunk. "We will all miss you so terribly much, but I know someone who especially will. You mean to say goodbye to him, don't you?"
"Of course," Frances lied. In truth, she had not the heart, nor the strength to tell Jane all. Currently the broken engagement was still only known to herself. Cringing, Frances wondered how she would manage to tell Henry Crawford. "I will write a letter," she thought with a little reassurance, "when I'm back at Mansfield, and well."
"So Mr. Crawford feels confident enough in letting his bride-to-be move away for months?" Jane, knowing too much, was not ready to drop this important matter.
"I don't know," replied Frances, coloring. "But I will say goodbye--I'll take a walk before I leave so I can tell him."
"As long as you do, my dear."
Without much event, the day passed, and Frances finally was ready to leave London. She was to go on her walk an hour before meeting William, who had been very busy the last few days in preparation for his own trip.
"I would have walked with you, Frances," said Jane as Frances gathered her things for her departure, "but I'm sure you would much rather see him alone."
Frances blushed, and awkwardly agreed to the plan. "I thank you so much, Jane, for the wonderful time."
"Oh! no need to! But it was profitable, was it not?" said Jane, giving Frances a nudge.
Here the tears came to Frances' eyes. Jane, alarmed, tried her best to soothe her.
"Don't cry, Frances! We will be back in England in just a few months. Believe me, I am sad too, even though my eyes are dry. You see, I have not a sensitive nature like yours. But I dare say you shall be a married woman by the time we get back?"
Frances looked up at her, and cried only more.
"No, no, I forgot!" exclaimed Jane. "You have to wait. Oh, poor dear! I believe these widow codes are far too strict. There, there, dry your eyes now. You don't want to meet him like this!"
Endeavoring to quit crying, Frances said her goodbyes to her sister-in-law and left the house. She had over an hour until she would meet William, so she decided to take the long route to the shipping offices, through the west end, round Covent Gardens.
The day was chilly, causing Frances to shiver underneath her thick pellise; her cheeks made pink by the biting winds. The weather only matched her dreary thoughts. How grim London looked now, in just a month. But the city truly had made its impression on Frances, having been the scene of both her greatest happiness, and sadness.
She trudged on, not knowing where she was going, or caring much at all, for that matter. Her thoughts traveled their own path; what was time, or location to her? She sadly stared at all the passers-by, each smiling couple bringing a pain to her heart. Even the poor young lovers and the pedler and his wife were objects of envy to Frances; at least they had someone--were not lone. "And now," thought Frances, "I think I wouldn't much mind being a socialite! If..."
But she stopped herself. That was the past--now her future thoughts should reside in Mansfield Park, or parrish--once blessed spot that now occupied the darkest corner of her mind.
The time would have passed by unnoticed for Frances had she not been awakened by the bells of St. Paul's, ringing the hour through the bitter air. William would meet her in just an hour, and she was quite on the wrong side of town, so she would have to head back. But where? She had not observed the street signs while she had been walking so dazedly. The many roads confused her so greatly that she was required to ask the help of a nearby shopowner.
"Why, ma'am," the stout lady answered as she dressed a fancy hat, "there are a lot of ways to get to ___Street. There's the park, and by the river--the bridge, you know. And it's a little longer, but you can go past the theatre, if you so desire, ma'am."
Frances thanked the woman and walked back out onto the busy street. Her feet led her towards the last direction, although at first her mind had rejected it. It would be hard to pass that site again, she knew, but perhaps it could help her somehow.
But seeing the Royale Theatre again only brought everything back to Frances' already-ravaged mind. The steps, the hall where she had seen Mr. Crawford for the first time in years--all, even if it did not meet her eye, certainly reshaped itself vividly in her head. Every look, every word of Henry Crawford's flooded her mind, and tried to persuade her to stay. "But I can't!" she thought, putting her gloved hand to her forehead, as if the effort could stop her thoughts. "I may believe it, but I will only delude myself! It was a dream--a happy dream, but a dream. I must go!"
So with sad resolution, she glanced at the building another time. She meant to stand there for but a moment, but she was stopped when she heard the roar of carriage wheels come up beside her. Frances did not have to look back to know who it was. Although a small part of her was glad to be near him one more time, she knew that, as with the theatre, the glimpse would only give her a greater struggle, and her head brooded over the ensuing information she would have to impart.
Frances stood on the steps, not daring to move as she waited for the driver to pull up. Soon, Henry Crawford was before her. Frances had expected to be greeted with a rapturous cry that would be hard enough to bear, but was approached with a coldness, a stiffness that was harder still.
"Will you speak with me, Madame?" Mr. Crawford asked as he tipped his hat to her.
Frances didn't answer; only looked up at him sadly.
"So you mean to go?" he resumed. A cold wind whipped past the building, causing Frances to shiver. The zephyr found its way through Henry's black locks, but didn't affect him; his worst pains, it seemed, came from within his mind. But seeing the discomfort the winds brought Frances, he took her into the theatre, to the same room where they had met before.
"I went to your brother's house to see you," he continued after setting a generous fire. "My business, it seems, was unneeded." He looked at her face, and broke out passionately, "How could I have gone there when I knew that it was one of your last days here?"
Frances winced, having read too much into his words.
"Sir, I meant to tell you that I was to leave--I was to write a letter!"
"A letter!" exclaimed Mr. Crawford in almost a laugh. "Did you think that a note would suffice for never seeing your face again--your dear, sweet face?"
"So you know that I'm breaking the engagement?" Frances looked at him in disbelief. "How? Even Jane didn't know!"
"No, she didn't know, because she doesn't know you--not like I do. Mrs. Price told me that you were leaving early, and meant to visit me, but I had guessed the truth. What did Yates tell you?"
"Many things," murmured Frances, "but I shouldn't think I'd have to tell you!"
"No," he replied, "unless it was untrue. Dearest Fanny, can't you trust me?"
Tears came to Frances' eyes, and she peered at the floor. "Sir, I know everything about it--not only from Julia, but I had heard before of you--of your acquaintances. I should have guessed!"
Henry, unable to hold back, went over to Frances and comforted her. Her heart warmed at his care, but her mind held to its resolution.
"Sir, it is too late," she whispered, "I know now--I should have before, but it is not too late to end this now. It is right!"
"But how can you know that," burst out Mr. Crawford, "when you've listened to everyone but me? Please listen--I can explain..."
But Frances put her gloved hands to her ears in desperation. She had heard too much already, she professed; indeed, anything more would turn her against him, would make it harder for her.
"I never thought you could be so cruel," sighed Henry. "You will leave me because of what was communicated to you by people who were against me from the beginning?"
"No," murmured Frances in between sobs, "they only helped me see--I was blinded by a dream! I knew it couldn't be true."
"That I love you?" Henry lifted his head in hope. "Fanny," said he, helplessly stroking her curls, "you would have been blind not to see that I do. Surely you must be able to tell how much I love you (my sister says it is all too evident!)." He smiled, and continued "So how can you believe in false tales when you see the opposite before you?"
Frances glanced up at his face. Then maybe it had been a lie! A smile started to come to her lips, but was abruptly stopped.
"Sir," she said, getting up out of his reach, "I don't know--maybe you do! But I must go. Too much has happened with me already, and I shouldn't have let it!"
"Dear, sweet Fanny," he said, more to himself than to her. "How I adore those virtues, and yet how they despise me!" He followed her to the door, where she was sadly standing, and took her hands up in his own. "Then I must never see you again?"
"Never," Frances managed to utter, with not a little difficulty.
Henry sighed and dropped her hands. In a low voice, he spoke the words of Lord Byron:
"Though long and mournful must it be,
The thought that we no more may meet;
Yet I deserve the stern decree,
And almost deem the sentence sweet."
His eyes gazed into hers, so meaningfully, so powerfully, that her forces were quite abandoned.
"Yes," she whispered. "You may come! You shouldn't, but how will I ever..."
"Dear Fanny!" Mr. Crawford exclaimed. "You will not be disappointed--I promise. I give you my word that all is right!"
"Ah, but I must go, Sir!"
"Yes," he said, "but you have given me permission to visit you. It will be hard, but I shall be happy even thinking about it!"
"Oh! but you can't, Sir!" Frances, feeling the wrath of her sudden change of mind, dared not to look at him. "I should not have said it! You cannot come--until I know!"
"Until you know," began Henry, "but how will you know for sure until you learn to trust me?"
"But how can I?" cried Frances. "How do I know who to belive?"
"Oh, Fanny, if only I could make you belive me! I would give anything!"
"Sir," Frances sadly said, "my head is so out of sorts, it will not listen to anything! And surely it has reason to doubt!"
Henry put his hand to Frances' lips. "Believe me, my dearest Fanny, when I say that my heart is yours, and no one else's! Forget all else! But please, please do not forget me!"
"I must leave now!" she cried, fearing that her passions might grow stronger with another word of his. "And certainly, Mr. Crawford, I could never forget you!"
Still, Henry asked if she had her book of Byron's poetry with her, which Frances blushingly took out of her purse. She anxiously waited as he took a pen from a nearby table and started underlining passages whenever they took his fancy.
"Forgive me, Fanny, but I must have you remember me. Read these for me, Fanny, do!"
Frances took back the beloved volume with shaking hands, causing the dried rose to fall to the ground. She went down to get it, but Mr. Crawford had already reached for it, kissing the petals as he handed it to her.
She blushed once again, and murmured her goodbye. But Henry caught her hands as she went to the door.
"You said I should not visit you, so then is this the last time? Oh, my dear Fanny! Please don't think ill of me--I can't bear it. But before you leave, tell me please that you love me; I have to hear it once more."
Frances turned her head, and murmured something unintelligible, but Mr. Crawford pressed her until she painfully admitted to it.
"Yes, I love you, Sir--you should have known, I would think!"
"Oh, Fanny, you have lifted a burden from my heart. Know that I love you, and would never, never be able to hurt you!" And bringing her hands to his lips, he said, "Goodbye, Fanny."
Frances, too choked by her tears to be able to speak, sadly smiled at him, and left the room alone.
Frances had expected that a ride home with William would partially remove her overpowering feelings, but the plan, it seemed, was not to be given a chance. William had to leave early--that very day, in fact--and would not be able to attend his sister after all.
"I have my coach here," he explained, pointing to the small carriage and trying not to notice Frances' tear-stained face. "I can walk back from here, and the coach was only hired, so the driver will be able to take you back without a problem. It is unfortunate--I would have liked to talk with you without interruption from..well, you know!"
Frances smiled. Good William! Even if no one else cared for her, her brother's kindness would always remain. "I shall be fine, William. Thank you!"
With such an eventful morning, the tears came back to her eyes without fail. William comforted his younger sister, promised to write, and saw her into the carriage.
Once inside, Frances spread out her things on the large seat, stashing the poetry book under a bag so that her eyes would not be pained by it. She could hear William explaining the way to the driver through the window, describing the very routes to Mansfield Park which would, under any other circumstances, have been a comfort to her. But now, aside from Susan, the house would be full of painful memories; she cringed as she imagined what would be expected for her--who would be waiting, and how she would be thought to be.
William soon came round to the door. "You're you you'll be alright?" Seeing his sister's smile, he continued, "Don't worry about Jane and me. We'll write; indeed, Jane will be so curious about the engagement, she'll be talking of it all the time, I know! Well, goodbye, dear sister!"
The carriage drove off. Frances peered out the back window until her brother had faded out of view, obscured by the various carts and people that crowded the street. How sad it was to leave it all! The trip had been delightful, for all the pains it had brought her. Frances had gained a new life--she had felt truly needed and loved for the first time!
It took an hour to drive through the city. Fortunately they didn't pass Greyston, or any other familiar locations, but Frances did not need to see them to bring the places to mind, for they were already sharply etched in her heart. She was in London still, and London was Mr. Crawford's London. Frances saw an advertisement for Hamlet posted to a wall as she passed by; it was too far away to notice any great detail, but Frances could see Mr. Crawford perfectly in the picture--she saw what she had lost.
But maybe he would visit her, though she had told him not to. But what if he did? She could never believe him now. Still, Frances could not banish him from her thoughts, so she reached over and picked up the book of poems.
Frances had perused the volume so many times that the pages immediately opened to the poems she read the most; indeed, it seemed that they had caught Mr. Crawford's eyes too, for his bold strokes of the pen were underlining many of the verses she had already had memorized. In vain she struggled not to read them, but her eyes were drawn towards the lines as though they were the concealers of her fate.
The tears came to her eyes as she came across Remember Him, Whom Passion's Power--as if she could forget him! The poem, with its beauty, struck her, but one of the passages marked in ink especially caught her eye:
"Oh, God! that we had met in time,
Our hearts as fond, thy hand more free;
When thou hadst loved without a crime,
And I been less unworthy thee!"
The very words hurt her; was Mr. Crawford thus admitting his wrongs? She puzzled over it, and read on. When she saw the same verse Henry had repeated earlier, a pang came to her heart. She tried to imagine it spoken in the actor's rich and eloquent tones, and read the last:
"Still---had I loved thee less---my heart
Had then less sacrificed to thine;
It felt not half so much to part
As if its guilt had made thee mine."
There! What did he mean by it? That the poem expressed a deep love, she did not doubt, but to whom? Did he love her, then? Frances brushed away her tears and came upon another poem--There Was A Time, I Need Not Name--it having the same theme, the same untruthful theme that hurt her. "Oh, if he does not love me, this would be cruel of him," she thought as she read it. "Does he truly think I could forget him?" Again, the last verses were underlined:
"Yes! my adored, yet most unkind!
Though thou wilt never love again,
To me 'tis doubly sweet to find
Remembrance of that love remain."
"Yes! 'tis a glorious thought to me,
Nor longer shall my soul repine,
Whate'er thou art or e'er shalt be,
Thou hast been dearly, solely mine."
It was cruel of him! Was he trying to make her feel guilty? The poem did make Frances pity him a little, but then she dashed her remorse off as too-hopeful feelings on her part. "Thou hast been dearly, solely mine"--maybe true, but how many other women did he call his own? How many so carelessly fell for him? Frances could not think of him with the sweet,pure affection she had used to; every impassioned word Henry Crawford had ever spoken to her was now abruptly halted by Julia's cold truth.
While Frances was undergoing her tearful journey, the house of Mansfield was enclosed in a lazy tranquility. All was frozen outside,--indeed, the parish received its first snowfall only the day before--but the fires, the lively chatter, and the sound of happy music had ensured a smile on every face. Even the elderly woman was looking almost cheerful, pouring over account books that apparently met her approval. A great contrast to her, a handsome young woman, dark-haired and dressed in red velvet, was playing at the pianoforte--with no great excellence, but evidently with enough pretty fingerings to completely charm the older man at her side, who gazed at her admiringly, and whose face was marked with smiles and laughter.
Sitting nearby was another man--a little younger than the first, but very large, and much worse-looking--who would join in the laughter occasionally while talking to a pretty young woman sitting next to him.
"So you expect Mrs. Bertram soon, Miss Price?"
"Yes. In two days, Mr. Dearston," replied Susan, keeping her eyes on her work.
"Wonderful! I have been wanting to see your dear sister again!" he exclaimed. "Mrs. Bertram is the perfect addition to our society."
"Frances?" cried the girl at the piano. "Oh! yes, she is such a dear! The house is not so nice without her!"
The old man at her side laughed. "Really, my dear Eliza? It seems to me that you have kept this house in spirits enough since my niece has been gone!"
"Well, I didn't mean that, of course!" smiled Eliza West. "She is very sedate, of course, but then she is such a very nice lady--and I do so want to tell her of our engagement. What will she say when she finds out that I am to be her aunt?"
Sir Thomas sat back with a look of content. Of course he knew that the news might not please his niece, but what did that matter to him? He deserved to remarry, he believed; and if anyone, a young and lively wife, to make up for his old and insipid Lady who now rested in the Mansfield churchyard.
Mrs. Norris, however, raised her head from her notes and snorted. The news of the engagement had contrived to make her a little less against Frances, and a lot more against Eliza. "I don't know what Mrs. Bertram will do when she hears that, Miss West. Fortunately, she has another aunt, although she's old, and not quite the thing (for Heaven's sake, Susan, do watch that thread--you will break it, you know, and it will be quite wasted!)."
Eliza only yawned, and pretended not to notice. "Dear me," she said after a while, "it can get awfully dull! How about a game? What say you, mio caro signore?"
"If you wish, my dear Miss West," answered Sir Thomas.
"Cards?" exclaimed Mr. Dearston, quitting Susan and hurrying to the table. "Wonderful! I love cards! How about quadrille?"
Eliza frowned. "But Sir, that requires four players, and who besides us will play?"
Here, Aunt Norris made a racket getting up, and left the room.
"My niece can, my love," broke in Sir Thomas. "Come, Sue, won't you play? I know it is not something you generally do, but just for now?--for your friend, your future aunt!"
Susan glanced over at Miss West's triumphant face, and reluctantly agreed to join the party. But she did not have to play long, for the game was interuppted by the sound of the door shutting in the entry way. Sir Thomas placed his cards down in alarm when he heard it, and felt the cold wind that drifted into the drawing room. Eliza West, however, took back up her fiance's cards and laughed.
"Come, dear Sir! Let the servant attend to that. 'Tis only a cool breeze."
Sir Thomas strained a muffled laugh, and murmered something having to do with the superstitions of the elderly.
"Elderly?" Eliza smiled. "Sir, you never have talked so before--don't now! You are in your prime!"
"You are good, Miss West," said Sir Thomas quietly. Still, his hands shook as it came to his turn to set out the cards. But he positively started when the servant silently showed in a pale, trembling lady. The room grew colder as she walked in, her languid eyes transfixing themselves upon those of the shocked quadrille players. It took them a while to recognize this black-clad lady, with the white cap and scattered brown curls framing her sad, white face. Seeing them so bewildered, the woman tried to smile, her pale lips struggling so as to only startle the group even more.
Susan Price ran up to the visitor and helped her to a chair. "Frances! Is that you? Oh, what is wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong," answered Frances Bertram quietly. "My ride was long--that is all."
"Then it is only you, Frances?" broke in Sir Thomas, much relieved, though his voice still was shaken. "I did not know at first--I thought you were the ghost!"
"Of whom, Sir Thomas?" laughed Eliza. "What a flattering way to greet your poor niece. You must not mind him, Mrs. Bertram, he is dabbling into the superstitions tonight--too much wine, perhaps!"
Frances smiled, though in truth she had not paid any attention to what the girl had said. Even Mr. Dearston's addresses could not help her, so after answering all the necessary questions, she begged them to excuse her for the night.
Frances was glad to be back at Mansfield Park, but her homecoming did not quite meet her expectations. To see Susan again was nice, to be sure, as was the luxury of living in a large, comfortable house. But these did not make her happy enough, did not occupy her mind as much as they should have--in short, they did not make her forget Henry Crawford.
Since the parting of the lovers, Frances had resigned to the fact that she could never marry him, so she had spent hours wondering how she could get the actor out of her head. It would be best, she believed, to go to Mansfield, to be with her family, and more importantly, to be influenced and persuaded by unhappy visions of the past. Surely to be in the same house where she had once nursed such bitter feelings towards Mr. Crawford, and had seen the baseness of his character, must not but inflict her with the entirety of her foolishness. And Edmund! Frances made a point to remind herself of her husband, now cold in the earth, and forgotten by most, save for the grateful parishoners whom he had dedicated most of his time for. It was her duty, and she hoped that she would be able to remember it better now, living in the home where they had spent their happy chldhood, as dear to eachother as brother and sister.
But alas! The only person to frequent Frances' mind was Henry Crawford, and her thoughts certainly were not against him. She would occasionally glance into the old billiard room (which now, by the by, was Miss West's music room), trying to conjure up memories of Mr. Crawford's carelessness during the theatricals, but she could only remember the rich tones of his voice, how he had so captured her for a moment--just for a moment--when he truly was Frederick Wildenhaim, that poor and honourable man that won her pity. Of course there was Maria, but Frances would then immediately think of the ball, when her cousins were gone, and she was all nervousness to open her first dance--and with Mr. Crawford! She had hated him then, but why? His attentions had been gallant; his manner, patient. She found that the only thing that stopped her from liking him was her love for Edmund.
Frances, of course, had not completely forgotten her husband; her thoughts ran far too deeply to enable her to lose all remembrance for the first she had loved. But she did not like to dwell on the marriage, for after thinking about it a great deal, she could only realize that it had all been a mistake, a misjudgement; and Frances was as critical of the wiseness of her decisions as some women are of their looks.
There was not enough love between the couple to make their marriage work (for Frances had always known that Edmund never loved her more than he was bound to, and that what she she considered a great affection on her part had only been out of respect). They were too alike to be happy; they each needed a another of a different cast of mind to broaden their own. Frances saw the house with bitter memories, visited his grave with sadness, but she knew that her soul had never, or would never rest in the tomb with him, for she had now seen love; she knew her heart belonged to another.
This lack of closeness between the couple had never gone unnoticed by Sir Thomas, or any of the other inhabitants of Mansfield. The former, indeed, had witnessed the coldness, but had blamed it on his niece. Both her reserve, and her inability to fall for Henry Crawford's charms so many years before had lead Sir Thomas to believe that she was passionless. It must have been, for had not Edmund been so very struck by Miss Mary Crawford? Sir Thomas deeply felt for his youngest son, who had been so like himself. They both had such calm dispositions that they needed someone to enliven them. As much as Sir Thomas respected his niece, he felt it a pity that Edmund had not married another. Miss Crawford, for instance, would have made him a fine wife--she was every bit as pretty and vivacious as his own Miss West.
"Did you hear that I am engaged?" asked Sir Thomas of his niece at breakfast one morning.
"Yes, I've heard, Uncle." Frances frowned. She could not but feel that it should have been herself asking him that very same question.
"What?" cried her uncle. "Then doesn't it please you?"
Frances bit her lip. Her thoughts saddened her, but seeing Sir Thomas' anxious look, she attempted to smile. "Yes, Uncle. I'm very happy for you."
"Good," sighed Sir Thomas. "I was worried--but you like Eliz...Miss West, don't you?"
"Miss West is a very sweet girl."
"Yes," agreed her uncle. "She is very sweet, but I don't know if I like the "girl" part. You don't think she's too young? Mrs. Norris always tells me that she is, but I think young ladies often marry grown men, don't you? Surely you must have encountered that very often in London."
Frances answered that she had, but saw that her affirmation did not help her uncle much. After a few moments of thought, Sir Thomas noticed his niece's frown, and grew even more concerned.
"Frances, I must apologize about the inheritance. But it will still be yours unless there is an heir, and maybe..." he stopped himself. "But you will lose the title, unfortunately."
"Oh, that doesn't matter!" smiled Frances. Was that what he had been so worried over? Ah, money was redeemable--if only past decisions were!
Though Mansfield had not cured her of her attachment, Frances did find some pleasure in being back at her childhood home. As said before, she was able to talk quite freely to her sister whenever Mrs. Norris' or Mr. Dearston's presence did not interrupt them. Unfortunately, these two were with them all too often--especially the latter. But his behavior was changed, Frances believed; he did not pay so much attention to her as he did before she had left. Was her love for another that apparent?
Frances mused to herself after one of the parson's regular visits.
"What is it?" laughed Susan, putting down her work.
Frances turned to her sister and shook her head. "Nothing. It's just that Mr. Dearston is so--so very changed!"
"Changed?" Susan blushed. "Can you tell? Oh dear, I hope not."
"What is it?"
"Well I wasn't supposed to tell you," answered Susan quietly. "Uncle told me it might upset you--he said to wait."
"What?" Frances mentally ran through the list of things that might greatly upset her; it was not long. Was Mr. Crawford somehow involved?
"Well," began Susan, smiling a little, "I am engaged--to Mr. Dearston."
Her older sister sighed a sigh of relief. But after a moment, the words repeated themselves in her head, and she stared at Susan in disbelief, unable to say a word.
"Well, then it does upset you?" cried Susan with a frown.
Suddenly Frances laughed, putting her sister at ease also. "No, Sue! I'm very happy for you--just surprised, that is all."
"Oh," replied Susan, colouring. "I know you don't care for Mr. Dearston, but he really is a good, stable man. I've thought about marriage for a few years now, and this seems to be a wise choice."
"Yes, he is good." agreed Frances. Her smile felt like retreating, but she managed to keep it for her sister's sake. "So," she resumed after a moment, "how did this come about?"
"Oh, well I had no one to talk to after you left: Eliza and I used to be great friends, you know, but well...So I grew lonely (Oh, dear Frances, don't pity me! It's not your fault. I'm happy--really I am!) Mr. Dearston talked to me often--he was very good--and after awhile, he proposed. At first I didn't know, but as I said, I've worried a lot over my future lately, and this will be the best thing. And also," she continued with a sly smile that was rare to her face, "I will be in my own house, and away from Aunt Norris!"
Frances laughed, and warmly congratulated her. She was relieved to be rid of the expectations of herself uniting with the parson, but she had hoped that he would have taken a wife other than her sister. How could Susan resign to it? But perhaps the younger's nature was of a different sort than the older's--it must be. Of course Susan had never received fine addresses from a man with a full and passionate soul. But perhaps, thought Frances, it would be all for the best. After all, was it really better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all? Dwelling on her own painful memories, and the too-wide hole in her heart, Frances began to doubt it.
Somehow Frances managed to keep a pleasant face during the wedding preparations. It was strange to be helping other brides now, to be quieting their nerves like the "married woman" the young girls thought her to be. She saw their innocent smiles and blushes with not a little pain; Frances could not envy them,of course, considering whom they were marrying, but she was saddened to think that soon it would only be she alone and unconnected. There would be Aunt Norris, too, but that only made Frances feel worse. During her uncle's wedding tour, she supposed that she would stay at Mansfield to be her aunt's companion, where she would probably remain until she herself was an elderly widow, again alone.
But before that would happen there were things to do. Sir Thomas convinced his intended to plan the date for January, so there was much to be done in preparation. The wedding was to be a small one (much to Eliza's dismay, but Sir Thomas was certain that a quiet ceremony would be of best taste), but the groom did not begrudge Eliza the right to buy fine things. Even Mrs. Norris agreed to this, saying that "the position of Lady Bertram should not be any more degraded than it already will be; you must wear fine clothes--silks, ornaments--as long as they do not cost Sir Thomas too much."
So around the anniversary of Mr. Edmund Bertram's death, when Frances was finally relieved of her widow's cap and black weeds, Eliza West went off to London. It would have been improper of Sir Thomas to go with,--though he wished to--so he sent his late wife's lady's maid, Chapman with the girl. It was first proposed that Frances might accompany her, but Susan protested--"she could not be left alone by her sister again, and she so needed her help." Maybe this was for the best: Frances might have been tempted to say yes.
So the house grew quiet once more after Miss West was gone. Days at Mansfield Park passed so slowly now. True, Frances spent many an hour helping out with things, but it seemed like even more were left at her disposal--to sit quietly, to dwell over the past; and yes, to think of him.
Sometimes Frances would let her mind run to its fancy, dreaming that Mr. Crawford might come back to Mansfield, might follow her there as he had done at Portsmouth. In these visions, he would climb down from his horse to greet the startled, yet smiling Frances. He would take her hand with a word of love that warmed her heart.
But he did not come. Was it out of respect for her wishes, or was it because he was busy elsewhere? These thoughts forbade Frances from sleeping many nights, but why? Though she could not admit it to herself, Frances knew that she was still all too much in love with Henry Crawford--even if her feelings were unrequited.
It took a few weeks before she gained any new information from him, enclosed in a lively letter from the Countess Bellafield:
Well, my silly girl, you are probably surprised to be receiving a letter from me? Indeed, I think I am rather shocked at myself for sending it; for after all, you are the woman who has refused my brother not one, but two times. How can you do it? Do you know how many young ladies are envying you at this very moment?
But I am not writing this letter to beg you to change your mind; I believe I have learnt by now that the only one who can bring a change of heart is Henry, himself. Speaking of my dear brother, he is most miserable. He still acts, but I never see him so much. He is the true romantic hero: pining away for his lost maiden--will she return his heart?
You may be surprised to hear that he will be going away to France. The monde has heard of the rage of London, and will not settle for second best, so now Henry will be off to charm the hearts of the icy Parisian ladies. He will be there the full season, he says, though I must say that I hope it will be less (and I am sure I am not the only one). Life is so droll without Henry.
So how is dear old Mansfield Park? Such happy memories I have of that perfect estate. Oh!, I happened to meet Sir Thomas' future bride, Miss West. A beautiful girl,--very nice--but so young! I confess that a smile came to my face when she told me who her husband was to be. I could never have imagined it of Sir Thomas! But he must like her, and he certainly would now, for you see, Miss West has been quite the thing at our balls.
Well I hope you can reconsider (I know I promised that I would not comment on this any more, but I cannot help it! I would love to have you for a sister). But even if you don't, I will still write, and can occasionally slip in a line or two from my brother--that ardent and admirable man who only waits until the day when he can call you his own.
Yours, &, &,
Frances read this letter hurriedly, skimming the lines for the mentions of "that ardent and admirable man"; and even after reading it twice through, she could focus on little else. So Mr. Crawford was leaving for Paris! This was startling news for her. She was glad to find no mention of Miss Dellrington--but Paris? "Then I won't see him again," she thought sadly. From the letter, it seemed that the Countess had already resigned to Frances' refusal--had Henry? "Was I wrong?" Frances whispered as she tried to stop her tears. "No! I was right;I must make myself belive it." Yes, she must herself, or at least others believe it. After a quarter of an hour's cry, Frances took up her pen and wrote the Countess a sensible letter--cold and formal--and one that made no allusion to the man who already claimed too much time in her mind.
But the Countess' note had to come out of the little box Frances had put it in, in hopes of never seeing it again. Earlier that day, the unopened letter had happened to come across Sir Thomas' eyes. It was from London--from Eliza, of course, he thought, but then he saw it was addressed to his niece. The Countess Bellafield was an unknown lady to him, but from whence it was sent intrigued him. So Frances was obliged to bring up the note's writer.
Sir Thomas was quite surprised to hear that the former Miss Crawford was still writing to Frances after all the scandal, and was even more so when Frances murmured that she had actually visited the lady.
"So how does Miss Crawford get on now?" asked Sir Thomas, interested. "It is too bad that she had to be connected with all that business; she was always a very fine girl, rather like my Eliza."
Had Frances not already been blushing at the first part of what her uncle had said, she probably would have contradicted the last. But as it was, she quietly told him that the Countess was doing rather well in London.
"Yes, London," he answered. "It is rather convenient, isn't it? Does she make any mention of Miss West?"
"I do not know, Uncle," replied Frances, who had truly forgotten most of the letter's contents, save for a few painful lines. "I will go fetch it to see."
She ran up to her little room and brought down the letter to the eagerly-awaiting Sir Thomas. But as she was handing it to him, Frances coloured again, and retracted the note back to her own hands.
"I will read the parts to you, Uncle..."
Sir Thomas assented, not caring about anything in the city but his bride, so Frances was spared the mortifying situation of having her uncle learn of her own stay in London.
"I knew she would please them," smiled Sir Thomas proudly after Frances read an appropriate passage to him. "She will charm them all. How happy to give her a chance to experience society before becoming my wife!"
"It sounds like she is having a pleasant time there," agreed Frances.
The next day brought another letter from London--this time from Eliza herself. It was a lively note, effectively pleasing Sir Thomas. He looked over it with an unceasing smile, occasionally reading a passage aloud to his family as they were eating.
"Well, I say!" he exclaimed after a moment. "Listen to this: "I have found many new friends here--rich and generous friends that are able to take me to all places profitable. Perhaps one of my favourites is a Miss Isabella Dellrington, who is an actress (How I envy her! The Dellringtons are very well-off, but Miss D. says she acts due to a "passionate nature."). She is currently performing in Hamlet, which I went to see with her family. She was splendid, though I must confess that the actor in it struck me as much better. His name is Mr. Crawford, and were I not already engaged (don't worry, my dear Sir: my heart is yours!)"' Here Sir Thomas smiled, and read on, '"Were I not already engaged to another, I believe I would like to meet him very much. He is passionate, they say, and that might come to vex me, but he is said to be very romantic. But alas! He has broken the hearts of all the girls in London, for he is in much dejection, pining over a long-lost lady love."' Sir Thomas stopped.
"I found this very interesting," he commented. "Of course there may be hundreds of Mr. Crawfords in the country, but he does sound a good deal like yours, Frances. But I suppose not any longer. What an odious man! Do you think the "long-lost lady love" refers to Maria?" Sir Thomas' voice grew angry as he neared the end of his observations: his daughter was the worst subject possible with him.
But Frances blushed, fearing that she might be forced to confess. Sir Thomas regained himself, and curiously put forth the question to Frances once more.
She uneasily clenched her fingers in nervousness. She would have to tell him, she believed, though she certainly didn't want to. But just as she was getting ready to speak, Susan, who had been listening to it all very quietly, broke in:
"Uncle, you did not tell us of Miss West's carriage ride. Please read us more!"
Sir Thomas smiled happily, and proceeded to read the rest of the letter, which could have out-rivaled the correspondence of Evelina's in length. Frances shot a thankful glance to her sister, who smiled in return and looked down. How very kind of Susan to save her thus, but then how much did she know? Frances had hoped to keep the month of bliss entirely secret, but with these trips to London, and perceptive guesses, she saw that her affection for Henry Crawford could not be hidden much longer.
And perhaps the truth would have been forced out of her had not a certain piece of information found its way into the quiet household. The family was sitting in the drawing room one day when Mrs. Norris, having heard the sound of carriage wheels out on the lawn, rushed up from her chair and drew back the curtains.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "Well this is happy!"
The three others listened anxiously, each guessing who the visitor might be according to their own wishes (or fears, perhaps). Mrs. Norris was all smiles, and squinted her eyes to get a better view of the carriage's occupants.
"Yes, I was right!" she cried. "It is Julia! Oh, and here is Mr. Yates."
A sigh was heard from the other side of the room, but Sir Thomas' face was marked with a scowl.
"Not that man," he grumbled. "He is so silly, I really can't abide him."
"Not silly," murmured Mrs. Norris. "He is a decent man, though I would have wished better for Julia. But what am I thinking?" She paused, and her usual frown came back to her withered face. "Julia doesn't need my help, I am sure. I will leave. Yes, I'll go count the vegetables in the kitchen again. Tell me when she is gone."
Frances' initial disappointment left her. After all, the Yates were coming from London, and perhaps they had news of Mr. Crawford. But what kind of news? Frances' convictions wavered, but were stopped when she saw Julia and her husband enter the room.
"Oh, so now you're back!" cried Julia upon seeing Frances.
This greeting made Frances uncomfortable; she was not used to being noticed with scorn, or even noticed at all.
"It's good I didn't catch you in another of your surprising situations," continued Julia with a malicious smile. "But I did enjoy that. It was very funny to see a new side of my little cousin!"
Frances blushed, and remained silent. She glanced over at her uncle in fear, but Sir Thomas did not notice the remark.
"What brings you here, Julia?" he said after coldly shaking the hand of his son-in-law. "You have been in London, have you not?"
"Yes, I have, papa. And in case you are wondering, I do have news about your Miss West. May we sit down?"
"Of course." Sir Thomas sat down with a smile, ready to accept anyone who paid his future bride a compliment. Frances, however, was better acquainted with Julia's love of telling news, and saw the same excited smile come to the cold woman's lips as she had seen before.
"What is this, Julia?" exclaimed Frances. Everyone looked at her, but she continued, "If it's bad...Oh, do please be kind!"
Julia laughed. "Don't worry, Mrs. Bertram! This doesn't concern you--I carry no messages from him." She happily saw Frances' angered look, and went on, "No, as I've already said, this is about Miss West, though maybe I shouldn't call her Miss any longer!"
"We're not married yet," smiled Sir Thomas proudly. "Go on."
"Oh! I know that!" exclaimed Julia. "But this is different..."
"Julia," spoke her husband, "Maybe I should tell it?"
"No! I'll do it." And with a glare, she silenced Mr. Yates. "Now this is it, papa. Yates and I have just heard this--it is known to only a few--but Miss West has eloped!"
"Eloped?" Sir Thomas murmured. His features sank.
"Yes," resumed his daughter, "and with her friend's brother! Lord Dellrington--a true scoundrel, I assure you. He must be, for he is with that rake, Crawford and his crowd. In fact, when I first heard the news, I half-expected to hear that she ran off with Henry Crawford himself! But I suppose that it would only be another, would it not, Mrs. Bertram?"
Frances ignored this, and went over to help her uncle, but he got up and shook off all assistance. "I must be going," he announced, struggling to keep his face straight. "Goodbye, Julia; Mr. Yates."
"But papa!" protested Julia. "I can tell you more! Don't you want to hear the details?"
"I have heard enough." And he was gone.
A silence followed, Julia uneasily sitting under the condemning looks of her two cousins. She tried to start up a conversation, but finding it useless, she told them that she had to go.
"Do you have any messages for me to give?" she asked Frances. "I do not often find myself at the Royale, but perhaps I can find him in some other place I know very well."
"No thank-you," replied Frances, blushing. She turned her head in mortification, but was glad to find that Susan had already left.
"Very well, then," said Julia after a moment. "But maybe it is for the best. You see, I do have information about Crawford, but I took a vow of secrecy, and I don't intend to break my promises--I'm not cold-hearted, you know. Come, Yates. Goodbye."
Frances saw her cousin to the door with relief. Julia seemed to get worse all the time. With the vanity of her father and the heartlessness of her aunt, Mrs. Julia Yates was the very last person Frances ever wished to hold a conversation with--and of course Julia's witnessing of that one moment did not help much either.
So with an impressive lift of the head and an arrogant slamming of the hall door, Julia was gone. Her husband, however, hesitated after his wife left. His face was nervous, and he turned the hall a few times, unsure of what to do. Frances witnessed this with surprise; that, combined with Mr. Yates hair--which reminded Frances a little of the trimmed fur of a fancy dog she had once seen an elderly lady walking in London--produced a strange effect on her because it made her come dangerously close to laughing.
But she didn't; instead, Frances asked him if all was well, and offered him a chair.
"Thank you," he replied, sitting down. "But may I have a word with you, ma'am?"
"Certainly," she answered as she took a seat near him. What could he want to tell her?
"This concerns Mr. Crawford."
"Oh." Frances almost started, but she managed to stay seated and calm her voice. "What is it, Sir?"
"I just wanted to let you know that sometimes my wife exaggerates a bit--she likes to tell tales (I often tell her she should be a novelist, or a playwright)." He broke into a nervous laugh, but Frances pressed him on with an anxious glance. "Well," he continued, "I had heard that you aren't marrying Crawford now. I must confess that my wife was happy--due to family feelings, of course--but the news rather upset me. You see, I felt guilty. Was it because of what we told you?"
About to utter a yes, Frances saw the man's sincerity marked in his face and hesitated. "I don't know. I heard before of things, and you must know that the engagement was never final."
"Yes," replied Mr. Yates. "To be honest with you, Crawford's not my greatest friend--he always tries to show me up, I believe; you must have noticed that? I never forget!--but he isn't a bad man. I would never let anyone call him so. We did see him at Mrs. Rushworth's, but that wasn't the whole story. If I knew, I would tell you, ma'am, but I don't. You see, I was in my sister-in-law's house for two days, but I never saw her. There was some sort of secret Julia had to keep that was forbidden even to me, so the whole meeting was vague. But in short, I don't suspect Crawford of any more wrong-doings."
"Thank you, Sir," replied Frances. She longed to take the information to her heart, to warmly believe it, but somehow she managed to distance it--partly. She could not make herself entirely prudent. Although Frances deemed it best to stay silent, she could not watch the person who had recently seen Mr. Crawford leave without another word. She knew what would be proper, but she also knew of the many sleepless nights she would spend, lamenting that same propriety.
"And you have seen Mr. Crawford, Sir?" she asked. "How is he?"
Mr. Yates looked at her in surprise. "I don't know. I never talked to him, but I saw him act(acting, you know, is a great love of mine. I always hoped to be an actor, but Crawford turned out to be the lucky one). But it seems to me that his acting has grown different--I don't know if it's better or worse. I suppose he will do well as long as he sticks to tragedies."
"What?" exclaimed Frances.
"He is altered," answered Mr. Yates, "he's dejected. And all of London knows why. They say he lost his Muse."
Frances blushed, but recommenced, "Altered? How, Sir?"
"He seems much sadder, I don't know," answered the man as he picked up his hat. Somehow, he managed to fit it over his hair, and then announced that he had to leave.
"Yes." replied Frances, not a little embarrassed for keeping him with her anxious inquiries.
"I just felt that it was my duty to tell you, ma'am, though I don't know if it will help matters any. But maybe you knew this already--he writes, does he not?"
She sadly shook her head.
"Oh," replied Mr. Yates after a moment. "I understand. But you never know. I wish you the best, Mrs. Bertram."
Frances thanked him, and then her link to London was gone. How very kind of Mr. Yates to help her--and at the risk of his beloved wife's hearing. But the information did not make Frances much happier. She was glad to hear Mr. Yates clear Mr. Crawford's name, but even he admitted that he was not completely sure. There were secrets, he told her, and this made Frances uneasy; almost as uneasy as she had made when she found that her adored Henry was suffering as much as she. Whatever the cause, it upset her.
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