JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

An Awakening at Sotherton

Mansfield Park
"Halloween" / "Anything but Pride and Prejudice"
Henry Crawford disturbs Fanny's brief rest and has an unusual effect on her waking moments as well.

Fanny sat alone on a bench on Sotherton's grounds, waiting for Edmund and Miss Crawford to return and wondering why she had looked forward to a visit that had brought with it so many disappointments. Mr. Rushworth hardly improved as Master of the Manor; Maria courted Mr. Crawford's favour as blatantly as ever; Julia was as irritable as Mrs. Norris was irritating. Even more disturbing, Edmund's admiration of Miss Crawford had not waned despite the latter's open disdain for his chosen profession.

And, now, here she was, alone, waiting for the others. In truth, she waited only for Edmund. She cared not whether he brought Miss Crawford back with him; although she would not wish him so ungallant as to leave a lady alone in the wood, she would have preferred to have his company all to herself.

"What can a man and woman do alone for half an hour?" Innocent as she was, she could come up with a few ideas. She tried to turn her thoughts away from what Edmund in particular might do with that flirting, smiling woman in the flattering scarlet dress. She did not want to know. The way Edmund had looked at Mary Crawford had raised Fanny's hackles and lowered her spirits. Her cousin had never looked at her that way, and she despaired that he ever would.

The waiting and wondering ate at her. She spoke his name, though it gave her no comfort. He truly had forgotten her. Nevertheless, she called his name a second time and a third before giving way to dejection.

Her dwindling flame of hope had flickered when the pair had gone off together and disappeared from view; their staying away so long had blown that flicker into a wisp of smoke, a candle snuffed out by their thoughtlessness and the futility of her desires. It might as well have been night, so dim was the light in Fanny's eyes. She pulled at her gloves, yanking them free and wringing them over and over. Her hands felt clammy, her head ached, her insides churned. She lay down upon the bench and closed her eyes, willing herself away from this wretched place.

Her eyes flew open as a cold hand touched her shoulder from behind. She gasped. "Who is there?" She spied the moon above her - the moon? Had she slept the day away? Then she could no longer see her own hand in front of her for the utter darkness that fell on everything as a thick cloud obscured the circle of white.

"Who or what are you?"

"Calm yourself, Miss Price. You are among friends and quite safe. There are no witches or warlocks here."

"Or vampires?" The clouds parted, and Maria's pale, smiling face came into view.

Mr. Crawford grinned, baring his fangs. "Do not give away all my secrets, Miss Bertram."

Fanny's scream froze in her throat as Mr. Crawford leaned closer. His teeth came near enough to threaten more than her composure. She covered her neck with her bare hands and loosed her scream at last into the still of the night as the fangs pierced her skin. She flung her injured hand outward and slapped Crawford's face in so doing.

"Ow! So feisty!" He rubbed his cheek. "I had meant to put a nice pair of holes in you, but not there. I got not even a drop of blood for my trouble."

"Do not waste any more time with her, Henry! Come, let us go before Mr. Rushworth finds us."

The two moved like ghosts through the iron gate and disappeared in a swirl of writhing mist. When Fanny opened her eyes again, she saw their backs in the daylight. The other sight must have been a nightmare, she decided. She closed her eyes once more as they turned towards her.

"I cannot believe Mary left her here all alone."

"Edmund left her as well." She could hear the smirk in Maria's voice.

"She looks so peaceful in her sleep. Pretty, too." He sounded surprised.

"Do not tell me you admire my cousin!" Fanny took no offence at Maria's remark; she had thought the same thing herself. It was unlikely that Mr. Crawford should admire her.

"Why should I not?"

"She is so reserved and retiring. A mouse of a girl! She lacks the spark one needs to capture a man's attention."

"Capturing a man's attention is one thing; keeping it is another."

"She certainly has yours!" Fanny imagined the pout that must have been on Maria's face as she said the words.

"La Belle au bois dormant." She recoiled at the gentle touch upon her shoulder. "Miss Price? It cannot be comfortable to lie in that attitude for long. Miss Price?"

"Leave her, Mr. Crawford." Maria's voice sounded farther away.

She felt his breath on her ear, and then the faintest whisper, "Fair princess, shall I awaken you with a kiss?"

Realising she would not be able to keep up the pretence much longer, Fanny looked up. She started to speak but became distracted by the look in Mr. Crawford's eyes. For the first time, she felt as if he really saw her, and she was not sure she liked it. She mumbled her greetings without her eyes leaving his face.

She thought of the manner in which he and his sister had wormed their way into every facet of life at Mansfield Park. The Bertrams had welcomed them with open arms, but she could not have anticipated their becoming so ingrained in the family. At first glance, she would not have believed Miss Crawford capable of luring Edmund away to a place where she could not reach him, or Mr. Crawford capable of pitting sisters against each other and spoiling the pleasure the one ought to have in her engagement.

The man before her had no fangs - his teeth were really very good, she allowed - but just the same, he and his sister were sucking the lifeblood out of the home she knew and loved by having so little care for the feelings of others. Miss Crawford had said it best: 'Selfishness must always be forgiven, because there is no hope of a cure.' No matter what else he might or might not be, Henry Crawford was at heart a selfish man.

Yet, she felt she could forgive him. After all, had she not forgiven his sister each new offence that had stung her sensibilities, every fresh footprint that had trampled and muddied her peace? She would forgive the brother's insidious dealings with her relations as well. She wished to do so, if only to ensure he never gained any hold over her, good or bad. She would pardon his selfishness. After all, she had ample proof of failings in her own character, especially of late.

She watched in silence as a half smile warmed Mr. Crawford's countenance. "You heard my little compliments, did you not?"

Fanny said nothing but nodded, unwilling to dissemble and feeling a little emboldened by her victory over his nightmarish alter ego. Her hand tingled at the thought of slapping the face before her.

"So now you think I flirt with every pretty girl I meet."

"Only the pretty ones?"

He threw back his head and laughed.

She smiled to herself, conceding the lure of charm, and more than that, the appeal of having an admirer. She did not want Mr. Crawford for her own; she needed more than a common flirt with the sense to seek a bit of substance between affairs. However, she began to wonder whether she wanted in his stead a man who never sought her at all. If a shallow, unsteady regard must have some pains, a blind, neglectful one could have few pleasures. There was more than one way to drain the life out of a person. While she had devoted hours and days and years to cultivating her affection for Edmund, she had reaped little for her trouble.

Mr. Rushworth returned, muttering something about a key, and escorted a reluctant Maria to the gate. Mr. Crawford begged their leave, declaring his intention to remain with Fanny until his sister and Edmund returned. Julia approached just then, and Mr. Rushworth offered her his other arm; she took it before she knew what she had done. Both sisters went through the gate with their host, glancing back with baleful looks at Fanny, who tried to feel pity for them but could not, and at Mr. Crawford, who never turned round to notice them.

"There is no need for you to stay on my account, Mr. Crawford." Fanny suddenly had had enough of his sort of amusement.

"I shall not leave you alone as others have done. I shall have a word with Mary about her neglect."

"No! Please say nothing of it. If my own cousin felt no qualms in deserting me, why should your sister feel any?"

"Miss Price! Are you the same creature who fell asleep on this bench? What has transformed you? What is going on in that lovely little head of yours?"

"Whose lovely little head, Henry? Oh!" Miss Crawford appeared round the trees and gaped at the sight before her. "My brother, on bended knee, at the feet of Miss Price! What say you to this, Mr. Bertram? Are we de trop? Shall we turn back?" Her laughter tinkled in the air.

While Mr. Crawford rose and explained the situation to his sister, Edmund stood and stared at Fanny. Eventually he came out of his stupor and sat at her side.

Fanny leaned over to him. "Has she counselled you to go into the law?" She enjoyed the odd, satisfying feeling of speaking her mind. "Or have you decided to convert her to the sort of woman fit to be a parson's wife?"

He blanched. "We spoke of many things, Fanny."

"Did you? I suppose you saw the avenue."

"Yes - Oh! You wished to see it as well."

"My wishes do not signify, Edmund."

"Of course they do. You wish for so little."

"How would you know that?"

Edmund looked at her as if he had never seen her before. Perhaps he never had, she thought, then chided herself for being unkind.

When the party left Sotherton, Fanny was granted the dubious pleasure of sitting with Mr. Crawford on the barouche-box, by his particular request. Mrs. Norris protested with her usual energy, but the gentlemen's wishes prevailed - Edmund had taken Mr. Crawford's part over his sisters and his aunt, and had stepped forward to assist Fanny into it himself. Fanny felt she had no choice but to acquiesce, and soon the whole party was off and Mr. Crawford's ramblings were filling her ears.

She had not changed her mind about the desirability of the gentleman's attentions, but she felt she was doing her cousins a great favour. While she admitted the notion of riding in a carriage with one or two jealous relations held no attraction for her, she also believed Maria needed to contemplate her future as Mrs. Rushworth and Julia needed to accept the fact that Mr. Crawford cared nothing for her. She would have offered the coveted seat to Miss Crawford, but she felt that lady would not easily be reconciled to Edmund's choice of career and had as much to mull over as either of her cousins. Such troublesome thoughts were best indulged under cover of garrulous Mrs. Norris's stream of nothings; Fanny, having had years of experience of the kind, had no doubt it would do them all good in the end.

This visit to Sotherton had done her good. Her short rest, although fraught with spine-chilling images, had refreshed her, and the burst of boldness that had prompted her to speak aloud thoughts that she normally would have kept to herself had been just that - a burst that had lasted no longer than her self-pity over being abandoned by Edmund.

As for Mr. Crawford, perhaps he would benefit from fancying himself a little in love and being in doubt of a return. She would not be unkind to him, but neither would she allow him to make any inroads into her affections. She did not believe him capable of doing so in any case; she had loved Edmund for so long now, she was not sure she could cease loving him. She knew, deep down, she had no desire to stop. Just the same, she felt a selfish tingle at the thought of putting a tiny hole in the heart of the man next to her, and hopefully an even bigger one - one she hoped would be filled someday to both their satisfaction - in the heart of her handsome cousin, who rode alongside them and often glanced at her with a new spark of interest in his eyes.

~The End~

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