Mansfield Park by Jane Austen


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CHAPTER 1: A new home

About thirty years before our story begins, Miss Maria Ward – a young lady with only about 7,000 pounds of her own – was lucky enough to catch the eye of a rich baronet. He was Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park, a large country house in Northamptonshire, about eighty miles north of London. He fell in love with her and married her, and she became Lady Bertram, with a fine house and plenty of money.

However, her two sisters, although pretty, did not manage to find husbands as good as hers. Sadly, there are more lovely women in the world than rich men to marry them. Her older sister married a poor clergyman, Mr Norris. Sir Thomas kindly offered Mr Norris the living of Mansfield, so Mr and Mrs Norris began their married life at the Parsonage, near the great house. The younger sister, Frances, chose an even worse husband, a young officer in the navy, and because she knew her sisters would not accept him in the family, she did not tell them until after her wedding. Lady Bertram, who preferred a quiet life, was too lazy to do anything much about it. But Mrs Norris could not rest until she had written a long letter to Frances, now Mrs Price, to tell her how stupid she had been. Mrs Price wrote back angrily, saying bitter things about Mrs Norris, Lady Bertram, and Sir Thomas and his unnecessarily high opinion of himself. Mrs Norris felt unable to keep this reply to herself.

‘How could Frances say those terrible things about you and dear Sir Thomas?’ she said sadly to Lady Bertram. ‘I knew her letter would make you both unhappy, but I felt it was my duty to inform you of it!’ And from then on there was a cold silence for some years between Lady Bertram and Mrs Price, who lived many miles away and moved in very different social circles.

However, interestingly, Mrs Norris continued to hear from her younger sister, and almost every year she told the Bertrams, in an angry voice, ‘Really, it’s too bad of her! Frances has had another child!’ By the end of eleven years, Mrs Price had a large family of eight children and would soon have a ninth. It seemed her husband was well enough to go drinking with his friends, but couldn’t earn enough money to keep his family, and they were very poor. Now Mrs Price was sorry that she had cut herself off from her sisters, so she wrote a letter to Lady Bertram, asking for help.

Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram were happy to reply; they sent money and baby clothes. Often Mrs Norris said to Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, when she visited them in the evenings, ‘I wish we could do more for my poor sister! She has so many children, poor thing!’ And soon she had an idea. ‘Her oldest daughter is a girl of nine or so – why shouldn’t we, the three of us, offer to take care of her? She could live with us at Mansfield. That would be a great help to poor Frances!’

Lady Bertram agreed at once, but Sir Thomas said seriously, ‘If we lake her away from her family, we must take care of her well, and that will cost quite a lot of money. And there are my sons to think of – I wouldn’t want them to fall in love with the girl…’

Mrs Norris did not wait for him to finish. ‘My dear Sir Thomas, I do understand you! Always so ready to think of other people! I completely agree with you. It may be expensive, but as I have no children of my own. I’ll be only too pleased to help. And, you know, your sons will see her as their sister, so there’ll be no danger there. Of course. I’ll never love her as I love your own dear, dear children! But after all she is my poor sister’s child, and I feel I must help her, as long as I have a bit of bread to give her.’

So it was agreed, and Mrs Norris wrote to Mrs Price, who accepted the offer. Sir Thomas was ready to pay for it all, while Mrs Norris, who talked so often about how kind and generous she was, was hoping to pay nothing. Her love of money was as great as her love of managing people, and she found saving her own money as easy as spending other people’s.

The day before the little girl, whose name was Fanny Price, was expected to arrive, Sir Thomas was surprised to learn that Mrs Norris was unable to take the girl at the Parsonage. ‘Poor Mr Norris is so ill at the moment,’ she said, shaking her head sadly, ‘that I’m very much afraid a child’s noise would be bad for him. Of course, when he gets better – if he gets better – I’ll be happy to take care of her.’

So it was decided that Fanny Price would live at Mansfield Park, with her aunt and uncle, their two sons and two daughters. The sons, Edmund and Tom, were tall, good-looking young men of sixteen and seventeen, while the daughters, Maria and Julia, were beautiful, well-grown girls, only a year or two older than Fanny. They all had their own opinions, liked talking, and were much more sure of themselves than little Fanny. From the moment she arrived at the great house, so different from her parents’ small one, she was afraid of everybody, ashamed of herself, and very unhappy. She missed her family, and could not say a word without crying. But she spoke so little that nobody noticed how miserable she was. Then one day Edmund, the younger son, found her sitting crying on the stairs.

‘My dear little cousin,’ he said gently, ‘what can be the matter? Are you ill? How can I help you?’

‘Nothing – no, thank you – it’s very good of you all to have me here,’ she whispered, still crying.

‘You miss your family, I’m sure,’ he said, smiling.

‘Yes, I do, but most of all my brother William. He’s the oldest in my family, you know, and my greatest friend. It’s so hard to be away from him!’ And poor little Fanny started crying all over again.

‘He’ll write to you. I’m sure,’ said Edmund kindly.

‘Yes, he promised to, but he told me to write first.’

‘And when will you do that?’

She looked away from him and said unhappily, ‘I don’t know – I don’t have any paper.’

‘If that’s the only problem, I can give you paper. Would it make you happy to write to William?’

‘Yes, very.’

‘Well then, come with me to the breakfast room.’

He sat her down at a desk, and found some paper, and stayed with her while she wrote her letter. With his own hand he generously added his love to his cousin William, which pleased Fanny even more, and then he called a servant to take it to the post.

From this day on, Edmund’s continued kindness to Fanny made her feel happier. The place became less strange to her, and the people there less frightening. She learnt to play with Maria and Julia, to read and talk to Edmund, and not to mind Aunt Norris too much. Mansfield Park became her home, and Edmund became her favourite person there; she loved him better than anybody in the world except her older brother William. But. would her happiness last?

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CHAPTER 2: Ideas of marriage

Five or six years after Fanny arrived at Mansfield Park, Mr Norris died, and Mrs Norris – now a widow – had to move from the Parsonage into another house in the village. A new clergyman, Dr Grant, took the living and moved into the empty Parsonage with his young wife. Sir Thomas thought it was a good time for Fanny to go and live with Mrs Norris. When Fanny heard about this, she was very unhappy. But there was no need for her to worry, because her aunt had no intention of giving her a home. Mrs Norris had been careful to choose a very small house. So when Lady Bertram asked about Fanny, Mrs Norris was able to reply, ‘My dear sister! I’m an unhappy, helpless woman now-widowed, in poor health, and with only a little money to live on. I couldn’t possibly have Fanny to live with me! And really, you know, I haven’t a bed to give her, because I must keep a spare room for a friend.’ No friends had ever come to stay at the Parsonage, but Mrs Norris now felt the need of a spare room for a friend very strongly.

So, to her great delight, Fanny stayed at Mansfield Park, and life went on as pleasantly as before.

About a year later. Sir Thomas began to worry about his business interests in Antigua, in the West Indies. So he decided to travel there to find out what was happening. It was his intention to go on the journey with his oldest: son, Tom, to take him away from the circle of careless friends with whom he usually spent most of his time and lots of the family’s money. They would be away for nearly twelve months.

The Miss Bertrams were not sorry to see their father go. They felt that they were now free to enjoy themselves. That autumn and winter they were invited to all the parties and balls in the country towns around them, and were very popular with the young men. Lady Bertram was too lazy to go with her daughters, but luckily Mrs Norris was happy to take her sister’s place. Fanny was not invited by anybody – she did not expect it – but she made herself very useful to Lady Bertram while the rest of the family were out. She enjoyed the quiet evenings by the fire, listening to her aunt and reading to her. Then when her cousins returned, she loved to hear all about the parties and the balls. ‘Who did Edmund dance with?’ was the first question that she always asked.

In the spring, Edmund noticed that Fanny was not looking well. He decided that she was spending too much time indoors. So he bought a new horse for her to use, and after that Fanny rode out every morning. She was delighted with the horse, but even more delighted with Edmund’s kindness.

She could not find the words to tell him how grateful she was.

By now Mrs Norris had managed to introduce her favourite niece, Maria, to Mr Rushworth – one of the richest young men in the country. He was not very intelligent and was no good at making conversation, but he looked pleasant enough. He had seen the beautiful Maria, and thought he was in love. Maria, who was almost twenty-one, was beginning to think that it was time to marry. As Mrs Rushworth, she would have a larger income than her father, as well as a town house in London. So she felt that it was her duty to marry Mr Rushworth if she could.

Mrs Norris did her best to help things along. ‘How delightful it will be to see dear Maria well married!’ she thought. And how grateful dear Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram will be to me!’

Soon Maria and Mr Rushworth were engaged, to the delight of both their families. Edmund was the only one who did not like his sister’s future husband. He often said to himself, ‘If Rushworth didn’t have an income of twelve thousand a year, we’d all think him very stupid!’

When Tom arrived home from Antigua soon afterwards, he brought with him a letter from Sir Thomas. The letter gave Sir Thomas’s consent to Maria’s choice of husband, asking only that Maria and Mr Rushworth should not marry until he returned home in the summer.

In July, when Fanny had just, had her eighteenth birthday, two new people – Henry and Mary Crawford – arrived in the village. Because they were the younger brother and sister of Mrs Grant, the new clergyman’s wife, they came to stay at the Parsonage for a time. Henry owned a large house and land in another part of the country, while Mary had an income of 20,000 pounds a year. Mary was very pretty, and her brother was really charming.

Mrs Grant had a plan which she discussed with her sister, Mary. ‘Who could be a better husband for you than Tom Bertram, Sir Thomas’s oldest son?’

Mary liked the idea very much, although she pretended to laugh at her sister’s choice.

‘And then,’ added Mrs Grant, ‘I’d like Henry to marry Julia, the younger Miss Bertram. She’ll make him very happy, I’m sure.’

‘My clear sister,’ said Mary, smiling, ‘if you can persuade Henry to think of marriage, you are cleverer than half the women in England. He has broken so many hearts!’

The Miss Bertrams liked Mary Crawford at once, and they liked her brother even more. Before Henry had been at Mansfield a week, Julia was ready for him to fall in love with her. And Maria, although she was engaged, clearly enjoyed spending time with him. Henry himself did not want them to ‘die of love’, but he just could not keep away from these two beautiful girls. He persuaded himself that they could take care of themselves well enough when they were with him.

Mary Crawford soon decided that Mrs Grant’s plan for her was a sensible one. Both Edmund and Tom were fine-looking men, but she felt she liked the oldest son best. It was no surprise to her – she often did prefer the oldest son in a family. When Tom’s father died, the young man would become Sir Thomas, a baronet with his own country house and gardens, and a large income. She thought she would consent to marry him. But in a few days he was leaving Mansfield to spend time with some friends at the horse races. Perhaps before he left he would ask her to be his wife.

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CHAPTER 3: Falling in love

When Tom Bertram left Mansfield for the horse races, he had still not said anything about marrying anyone. Mary Crawford felt sure she would miss his good-looking face and amusing conversation. That evening the Grants and the Crawfords were invited to dinner at Mansfield Park. Mr Rushworth, Maria’s fiance, was also there, for the first time since the Crawfords’ arrival. He had recently returned from a visit to a friend’s house, and could not stop talking about it.

‘I wish you could see it!’ he said. ‘I never saw a place so changed in all my life! I think that now the gardens are some of the finest in the country! When I got back to my house – Sotherton Court, you know – I felt very low. It looked just like a prison, a miserable old prison!’

‘Oh really, Mr Rushworth!’ cried Mrs Norris. ‘Sotherton Court is far from a prison! It’s the most wonderful old place in the world!’

Mr Rushworth shook his head sadly. ‘Smith – that’s my friend, you know – had a man called Repton to help him plan all the changes. I think I’d better have him to help me at Sotherton. He costs five guineas a day.’

‘How right you are!’ cried Mrs Norris. ‘An excellent choice! And what is five guineas daily after all? I always say the cost doesn’t matter, if the man really knows his job!’

‘Smith’s place is so much better than before,’ Mr Rushworth continued. ‘Everyone says so. I think I shall have Repton.’

‘Mr Rushworth can do as he pleases, of course,’ said Edmund politely, ‘but I think I’d prefer to make my own mistakes and plan my garden myself.’

Mary Crawford listened. ‘What a stupid man Mr Rushworth is!’ she thought. ‘But Edmund is so sensible!’

‘Mr Bertram,’ she said, turning brightly towards Edmund, ‘I have news of my harp. It has arrived safely at Northampton. And tomorrow Henry, who is always so generous and kind, is going to fetch it for me.’

‘The harp is my favourite instrument, Miss Crawford,’ Edmund replied. ‘I hope you will soon let me hear you play.’

‘I’ve never heard the harp at all,’ said Fanny. ‘I would love to hear it too.’

‘I shall be most happy to play for you both,’ replied Mary with a charming smile. And so the evening ended.

The next morning Edmund asked Fanny eagerly, ‘What do you think of Miss Crawford?’

‘I like her very much. She talks amusingly, and she’s so pretty!’

‘Yes, what a lovely face! What intelligent conversation!’

It was clear that Edmund admired Mary Crawford greatly, and in the next few days his admiration for her grew still greater. The harp arrived, and he went every day to the Parsonage to hear his favourite instrument played beautifully. A pretty, clever young woman like Mary Crawford – playing a harp as fine-looking as herself, near a door opening on to a garden in summer – was enough to catch any man’s heart.

Mary realized to her surprise that she had begun to look forward to Edmund’s visits. She did not know why, because he was only a younger son and he did not try to flatter her. But she liked to have him near her; that was enough.

Fanny did not wonder that Edmund visited the Parsonage every day; she was sorry that she herself did not see him so often now. But she did feel hurt when Edmund asked if Miss Crawford could borrow her horse – the horse which he himself had generously bought for her to use! Mary had decided to learn to ride, and Edmund wished to teach her. Fanny gave her consent, but she knew this was an opportunity for Edmund and Miss Crawford to spend even more time together.

At first, Edmund began with good intentions. He kept Miss Crawford’s riding lessons short, so that he could return the horse to Fanny for her daily exercise. But soon Mary Crawford wanted to ride for a longer time, and for the next four days the Miss Bertrams, the Grants, the Crawfords and Edmund rode round the countryside all day. The weather was very hot, but the riders were able to keep cool by keeping under the trees and out of the sun, and they greatly enjoyed themselves.

When Edmund returned to Mansfield Park one very warm evening, he looked round the sitting room and said, ‘Where’s Fanny?’

‘I’m here,’ called a soft voice from a dark corner at the other end of the room where she was sitting on the sofa.

‘What are you doing over there on the sofa, Fanny, you lazy girl?’ said Mrs Norris crossly. ‘Come and do some sewing at the table with us. You should learn to think of your duty to other people.’

Before she had finished speaking, Fanny was at the table, working at her sewing. Edmund looked closely at her.

‘Fanny,’ he said, ‘I’m sure you have a headache.’

‘Well, yes, Edmund, but it’s not very bad, really.’

‘Did you go out today, when it was so hot?’

‘Indeed she did, Edmund,’ said Lady Bertram. ‘She was cutting flowers for me in the garden. And then she had to walk twice to the village and back, for Mrs Norris.’

‘What!’ cried Edmund. ‘Walking as well as cutting flowers? In this heat? Of course she has a headache!’

‘Fanny should take more exercise,’ said Mrs Norris angrily ‘She hasn’t been riding for four days now. And if she doesn’t ride, she should walk.’

‘She is not as strong as you are, ma’am,’ replied Edmund. He said no more, but brought a glass of wine to Fanny, and made her drink most of it, as a medicine, to bring the colour back to her face. He was angry with his mother and aunt, but still angrier with himself. He was ashamed to think that for four days she had not been able to take her usual exercise, because he had thought only of Miss Crawford’s wishes.

Fanny went quietly upstairs to bed. In her dark corner of the sitting room, the ache in her heart had been much greater than the ache in her head. Now Edmund’s kindness in bringing her that wine had made her so happy that she could not think very clearly.

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CHAPTER 4: A visit to Sotherton

Fanny was out riding the next day when Mr Rushworth and his mother arrived. They came to invite the Bertrams and the Crawfords to visit Sotherton Court. Mr Rushworth hoped they would give him ideas for improving his gardens.

Mrs Norris was very excited. ‘We shall be delighted to accept, my dear Mrs Rushworth,’ she said eagerly. ‘Our two dear girls, Edmund and myself, that is. Lady Bertram cannot come – she gets tired so easily. But Fanny will stay and be her companion.’

Edmund turned to his mother. ‘I don’t suppose, ma’am, that you wish to stop Fanny enjoying herself?’ he asked.

‘Well, no,’ replied Lady Bertram slowly, ‘but I need her at home with me.’

‘You won’t need her if I stay with you. I know Fanny would really like to see Sotherton, and she doesn’t often get what she wants.’

Mrs Norris was very cross at this change to her plan. But luckily Mrs Grant offered to be Lady Bertram’s companion for the day, so Edmund could join the party.

On the day of the visit, the Miss Bertrams, Mrs Norris, Miss Crawford and Fanny were driven by Henry Crawford in his carriage, while Edmund rode his horse to Sotherton. Fanny was very happy to look silently out of the carriage windows at the beautiful countryside. She was not like Mary Crawford, whose only interest was in people, and who preferred talking. But they were like each other in one way – they both kept their eyes on the road, looking out for Edmund; and when they saw his horse, both of them cried There he is!’ at the same moment.

Mr Rushworth welcomed his guests to Sotherton. They ate a light meal, and then Mrs Rushworth showed them round the many rooms of the house. Finally they reached the old chapel.

‘The family and servants used to say their prayers here in the past,’ said Mrs Rushworth. ‘But my husband decided it wasn’t necessary to continue with this.’

‘That was an improvement,’ said Miss Crawford, with a smile, to Edmund.

‘Well, I’m sorry it was stopped!’ cried Fanny bravely. ‘It’s a fine thing when a whole family says their prayers together!’

‘Very fine, indeed!’ said Miss Crawford, laughing. ‘Just think how the daughters of the family hated getting up early and saying their prayers in this cold chapel. I’m sure they had no choice in the matter. And I don’t suppose the poor clergyman was even worth looking at!’

There was a short silence. Fanny reddened, and felt too angry to speak. Edmund was just going to reply, when Julia called to them.

‘Do look at Mr Rushworth and Maria! They’re standing side by side in front of the altar – all ready for their wedding!’

Henry Crawford had noticed this, too. He went closer to Maria and said, in a voice which only she could hear, ‘I don’t like to see you so near the altar.’ She whispered a reply to him.

Julia continued, ‘How unlucky that you aren’t ordained yet, Edmund! You could marry them here and now!’

Miss Crawford’s face lost all its colour when she heard this. ‘Ordained!’ she said to Edmund. ‘What, are you going to be a clergyman?’

‘Yes, soon after my father returns from Antigua.’

‘I’m sorry I spoke of clergymen with so little respect.’

By now they all seemed to feel they had been in the chapel long enough, and decided to go out into the gardens.

Henry Crawford, Maria and Mr Rushworth started discussing possible improvements in the flower garden, while Miss Crawford, Edmund and Fanny walked towards a small wood. Mrs Rushworth and Mrs Norris walked more slowly behind them all, and poor Julia had to walk with these older ladies. She wanted so much to escape to the flower garden!

Miss Crawford said to Edmund, ‘I’m surprised that you’re going to be a clergyman, Mr Bertram.’

‘Why are you surprised, Miss Crawford?’

‘Because as a clergyman you will never be rich or well-known in the world. A clergyman is nothing.’

‘I think a clergyman has an important job to do. Helping people see what’s right and what’s wrong – would you call that nothing?’

‘Come, change your plans, Mr Bertram. It’s not too late. You really could do something better.’

‘I’m afraid you can’t persuade me, Miss Crawford.’

There was a silence. After a moment, Fanny said gently, ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like to sit down when we come to a seat.’

‘My dear Fanny,’ cried Edmund, taking her arm at once, ‘I’m so thoughtless! I hope you aren’t very tired. Would you take my other arm, Miss Crawford?’

The three of them walked on to the next seat, where Fanny sat down to rest. But Edmund and Mary Crawford wanted more exercise. So they walked on into the wood, promising to return very soon.

Twenty minutes passed. Then Maria, her fiance and Henry Crawford came up to Fanny’s seat. Nearby there was a gate into the park, but it was locked. Maria and Henry were eager to enter the park, and they persuaded Mr Rushworth to return to the house to fetch the key. While he was away, they managed to push their way round the side of the gate, and walked quickly off together into the park. Fanny was surprised at their bad behavior.

When Mr Rushworth came back with the key to the gate, he was very cross to discover that Maria and Henry had not waited for him. He hurried after them into the park, leaving Fanny alone again.

Finally she decided to go and search for Edmund and Miss Crawford. She found them sitting happily under a tree, and realized sadly that Edmund had not missed her at all.

Soon it was time for everyone to return to the house for dinner. Conversation seemed a little difficult; only Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford had plenty to say. And on the way home in the evening, there was silence in the carriage, as Mr Rushworth’s guests thought long and hard about their day.

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CHAPTER 5: The play

Several days after the visit to Sotherton, a letter from Sir Thomas in Antigua reached Mansfield Park. The Miss Bertrams were sorry to learn from it that their father would be home soon. November was the black month fixed for his return. Julia would no longer be free to go to parties when she wished. And Maria, poor Maria! When her father returned, she would have to marry the man she had chosen as her husband, Mr Rushworth. She could not bear to think of it.

‘November is three months away,’ she said to herself hopefully. ‘Anything could happen between now and then.’

Miss Crawford heard the news that evening at Mansfield Park.

‘How happy Mr Rushworth looks today!’ she said to Edmund. ‘He’s looking forward to November. But I can’t help thinking, Mr Bertram, that your sister is sacrificing herself, to marry him.’

‘Not at all,’ replied Edmund with a serious smile. ‘She decided to accept him herself.’

‘Oh yes, I know, I was just joking. She’s doing what any young woman would do, and I’m sure she’ll be very happy. But what about you, Mr Bertram? Are you sacrificing yourself?’

‘You mean, by being ordained? I can promise you no one has persuaded me to do it. It’s my own wish.’

‘It s lucky, isn’t it, that your father has a good living ready for you, which you’ll be able to take?’

‘I suppose you think that has influenced my choice.’

‘I’m sure it hasn’t!’ cried Fanny, who was listening to their conversation.

‘Thank you for thinking well of me, Fanny, but perhaps it did influence me a little. I don’t think that’s wrong. A man can still be a good clergyman – it doesn’t matter if he has a comfortable income.

‘But why not go into the army or the navy?’ asked Mary Crawford eagerly. ‘You’d live the exciting, dangerous life of a brave officer, people would invite you to all the fashionable parties. What kind of life is a clergyman’s? He just reads the newspaper, watches the weather, and quarrels with his wife. The only thing he’s really interested in is his dinner.’

‘Do you know any clergymen like that, Miss Crawford?’

‘I do. My sister’s husband, Dr Grant, is most kind to me, but I’m afraid he’s just like the clergyman I’ve described to you. My poor sister! How can she bear it?’

‘I am sorry to hear that,’ Edmund replied. ‘Fanny, what can we say? How can we persuade Miss Crawford to agree with us?’

‘Dr Grant is still an excellent clergyman, even if he is sometimes a little cross,’ said Fanny. ‘There are many army and navy officers, I’m sure, who enjoy their food and argue with their wives.

‘Well, Miss Price,’ said Mary Crawford, laughing, ‘I hope you never marry a clergyman who quarrels with you every day!

‘There’s no man alive who could often quarrel with Fanny, said Edmund, smiling kindly at his cousin.

Just then Miss Crawford was called by the Miss Bertrams to play the piano for them. As Mary walked over to the instrument, Edmund’s eyes followed her in admiration.

‘How well she walks!’ he said to Fanny. ‘How amusing and charming she is! How generously she gives her time to others!

Fanny felt she had to agree. Edmund stood next to her for a short while, but he kept looking towards the ladies at the other end of the room. Soon he too went to join his sisters round the piano. Fanny was left alone, looking sadly out of the window at the stars in the sky.

In August, Tom Bertram arrived home again. He was as good-looking as ever, but Mary Crawford realized she was no longer interested in him. ‘It’s stupid of me, of course,’ she thought crossly, ‘but I really don’t want to marry him now – although he’ll be a baronet one day!’

Henry Crawford often visited Mansfield Park, where he spent as much time with Maria as with Julia. Both young women were flattered, and each thought she was his favourite. Fanny was worried by this behavior, and spoke to Edmund about it. But he told her there was no danger of Maria falling in love with Mr Crawford, because she was engaged to Mr Rushworth. ‘Don’t worry about it, Fanny,’ Edmund added. So Fanny tried hard not to think about it anymore.

A friend of Tom Bertram’s, called John Yates, came to stay for a few days at Mansfield Park. He was a fashionable young man, who had nothing to do except spend his father’s money. At a house where he had recently stayed, the family and their guests had acted in a play. Yates had enjoyed this very much, and now suggested that they should do the same at Mansfield Park. The young people accepted his idea with delight. Tom Bertram, as the head of the family while Sir Thomas was away, offered the use of any room in the house.

But Edmund did not like the plan at all, and later he spoke quietly to Tom about it. ‘Surely, Tom, you can’t want to amuse yourself by acting, when our father is away on a dangerous journey? And what about Maria? We must be careful of her good name. She’s engaged to Mr Rushworth, and shouldn’t be alone with any other unmarried men.’

‘You’re so serious, Edmund!’ laughed Tom. ‘It’s just a bit of fun. Rushworth himself is making no difficulty about it.’

‘I know our father wouldn’t like it,’ Edmund said.

‘I know him as well as you do, Edmund. Take care of your own business, and I’ll take care of the rest of the family. Don’t act yourself, but don’t expect to decide for other people.’

‘I have no intention of acting myself.’

Tom walked out of the room. Fanny, who had heard it all, and who agreed with Edmund, said to him, ‘Perhaps you can use your influence with the others, to stop it happening.’

But Edmund was not hopeful. The next day he tried to persuade his sisters that it was a bad idea, but both were eagerly looking forward to acting in the play. Lady Bertram did not mind what her children and guests did, as long as they did not wake her from her afternoon sleep. Mrs Norris was pleased that she was needed to help with the costumes. Henry and Mary Crawford also wanted to act in the play. None of them could understand what Edmund was worrying about.

Soon the group of actors had chosen a play called Lovers’ Promises. Maria took the part of the beautiful Agatha, an unmarried woman with a secret love in her past, and Henry Crawford took the part of Frederick, Agatha’s clever only son who wants to help her meet and marry her old lover. These two started rehearsing at once, and for the next few days were often seen whispering together in quiet corners of the house. Other parts were discussed and finally accepted. Even Fanny was offered a small part, but she knew she would hate acting, and refused.

Mary Crawford took the part of Amelia, another beautiful woman in the play. But there was a problem. Who would act the part of her lover, a clergyman called Anhalt? Edmund was asked, but he refused. So Tom suggested inviting a young man who lived in the next village to be Anhalt.

That evening Edmund came to find Fanny. ‘This acting gets worse and worse,’ he said. ‘What an unsuitable play they’ve chosen! It’s all about love and lovers! And now they’re going to bring in a stranger to act with my sisters and Miss Crawford!’

‘But what can we do?’ Fanny asked.

‘There is only one thing to do. I must take the part of Anhalt, and then Miss Crawford won’t have to act with a stranger. What do you think, Fanny?’

Fanny did not know what to say. ‘I’m sure she will be very pleased-‘ she began.

‘There! I knew you’d agree with me! Thank you, dear Fanny. I’ll go and tell the others at once.’ And before Fanny could tell him her real opinion, he hurried eagerly out of the room.

‘How strong Miss Crawford’s influence on him is!’ thought Fanny miserably. ‘He will do anything for her!’

For the next few days the house was full of noise and people. Workmen came to build a stage in Sir Thomas’s library, and servants ran here and there to obey Tom’s orders. The actors rehearsed morning and evening, and Fanny helped Mrs Norris with the sewing of the costumes.

The worst moment for Fanny came when Edmund and Miss Crawford asked her to help them rehearse their love scene. At first she fell flattered to be of help, but soon she saw the way they looked at each other as they spoke their words. ‘It’s only a play!’ she told herself. ‘But oh! I don’t think they’re acting!’ And that night she cried herself to sleep in her small bedroom.

The next evening there was going to be a full rehearsal in costume, in front of Lady Bertram, Mrs Norris, the Grants and Fanny. They were all waiting for the play to begin, when suddenly Julia ran into the room.

‘Our father is here!’ she cried. ‘He’s in the hall at this moment!’

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CHAPTER 6: Mr Crawford’s plan

Sir Thomas was in the house! It was a moment of horror for all in the room. ‘What will he say about the play?’ was the question they were all thinking.

Henry and Mary Crawford decided this was a good time for them to return to the Parsonage, and left the house, unnoticed. Yates stayed in the library, while everyone else went into the hall to welcome home the head of the family.

Sir Thomas was delighted to be home again. He asked how all his family were. There seemed to be no danger of his finding out about the play just then.

But suddenly he said, ‘I’m sorry to leave you all like this, but I really must go and take a look at my library. I missed having my own quiet room in Antigua.’ And before they could say a word, he was gone.

Fearing the worst, they all followed. They found him staring in horror at the stage, at the costumes thrown untidily over the chairs, and at. Yates, who was loudly rehearsing his part. Tom stepped forward to introduce Yates to his father, who clearly did not think highly of his son’s friend. Yates took the opportunity to explain all about the play. He was not intelligent enough to notice that – behind Sir Thomas’s back – the others were trying to stop him talking about it. Sir Thomas listened politely, but his face was serious.

He said nothing at the time, but the next day he spoke to Edmund. ‘There will be no more acting in this house.’ he said. ‘The stage must go, and Mrs Norris can give the costumes away.’

‘I can only say how sorry I am, sir,’ said Edmund unhappily. ‘I knew it was wrong, but I was persuaded to agree to it. But Fanny has always respected your wishes. Don’t be angry with her.’

Sir Thomas accepted Edmund’s apology and said no more to any of his children. But he did speak to Mrs Norris about it.

‘I am surprised that you gave your consent to this play-acting,’ he said.

For the first time in her life Mrs Norris did not know what to say. ‘Well, you see, Sir Thomas… well, er-‘ Then she thought of a way of changing the subject. ‘Your daughters wanted to act, so of course I agreed. Ah, how lucky that I made it my business to bring dear Maria and Mr Rushworth together! It was all my doing, you know, Sir Thomas. When I saw his admiration for Maria, I helped things along in every possible way. And now the dear young couple are happily engaged! You must thank me for that, Sir Thomas!’

‘Yes, I am sure we are all very grateful to you, Mrs Norris,’ replied the baronet quickly, in order to stop her saying any more about it.

That evening was quieter than usual at Mansfield Park. Maria was worried. She was expecting Henry Crawford to ask her to marry him; in her opinion, he had shown he loved her while they were acting together. Mr Rushworth had gone home to Sotherton, and she hoped he would not need to return. But a whole day had passed, and Henry had stayed away.

At last he arrived, and with delight she saw her father talking to the man she loved. But her happiness did not last long. After speaking to Sir Thomas, Henry told Tom he was going to visit an uncle in Bath. He said goodbye to them all, and was soon gone. So ended all the hopes of Maria and Julia Bertram.

The next day Yates left, and Sir Thomas was pleased to see him go. But the baronet had other worries. By now he had discovered what a very stupid young man Mr Rushworth was, and he wondered how Maria really felt about her fiance.

‘Maria,’ he said kindly to her, ‘if you no longer wish to marry Mr Rushworth, just tell me.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ replied Maria after only a moment’s thought, ‘but I have the greatest respect for Mr Rushworth, and every intention of marrying him.’ Now that she had no hope of marrying Henry Crawford, she was determined to escape from Mansfield Park and her father’s influence. Marrying Mr Rushworth seemed to her now the best way of doing that.

Her father accepted her answer as an honest one, and hoped that Mr Rushworth would improve as he got older.

Two months later, Maria Bertram married Mr Rushworth at Sotherton church. The young couple moved to Brighton, a town on the south coast, for several weeks. Julia was invited to join them, because Maria needed a more interesting companion than her husband. The two sisters – enemies when charming Mr Crawford had been around – were close friends once more.

Fanny was now the only young woman at Mansfield Park. The family began to notice her and listen to her opinions far more than before. She was also welcomed warmly as a guest at the Parsonage. Mrs Grant was finding it difficult to keep her sister Mary amused during the long wet autumn, so she often invited Fanny.

One day Mrs Grant happened to invite Edmund to dinner that evening, and then remembered Fanny. ‘Would you like to come too, Miss Price?’ she asked kindly.

Fanny was surprised and embarrassed; no one had invited her to dinner before. But Edmund persuaded Fanny to accept.

He now had to use his influence with his mother, to let Fanny go out that evening.

‘But how will I manage without her?’ asked Lady Bertram.

‘Mrs Norris will be with you, ma’am.’

‘I’m surprised that Mrs Grant should ask Fanny at all.’

Sir Thomas did not think it surprising. ‘Nothing, in my opinion, could be more natural. Mrs Grant is showing politeness to our niece. Of course Fanny should go.’

Mrs Norris was very cross when she heard of the plan. ‘Well, Fanny, you should be very grateful to Mrs Grant for inviting you and to your aunt for letting you go. Make sure you don’t talk too much – don’t think you’re anyone important. And if it rains – if looks like a wet evening to me – don’t expect to have the carriage!’

Fanny agreed with everything her aunt said. And when Sir Thomas said to her later, ‘Fanny, what time would you like the carriage?’ she was very surprised.

‘My dear Sir Thomas!’ cried Mrs Norris, red with anger. ‘Fanny can walk.’

‘Walk!?’ repeated Sir Thomas. ‘I can’t expect my niece to walk to a dinner party at this time of year! Will twenty past four suit you, Fanny?’

‘Yes, sir,’ Fanny whispered.

‘Unnecessary! Much too kind!’ said Mrs Norris, when Sir Thomas had left the room. ‘But Edmund is going, so it’s for him, I suppose.’ But Fanny knew in her heart that the carriage was for her, and she felt very grateful to her uncle.

On the way to the Parsonage, Edmund looked kindly at Fanny and admired her dress. ‘It’s very pretty, Fanny. Hasn’t Miss Crawford got one like it?’ For a moment Fanny felt sad, but she was pleased at least that Edmund liked her dress.

The evening went well for her. The Grants and their guests enjoyed talking, so she was able to look around her and listen. Henry Crawford had just arrived for another visit. He tried to talk to Fanny about the play, but she was determined not to have a conversation with him. She wanted to hear what Edmund was saying to Dr Grant about the living he would soon take up.

‘I’ll be ordained in a few weeks,’ Edmund was saying.

Just then Fanny noticed Mary Crawford’s face. It had lost all its colour. ‘She hates the idea of him becoming a clergyman!’ thought Fanny. ‘He and she could never be happy together.’

The evening ended with a pleasant drive home in the carriage, and Fanny had much to think about as she went to bed.

The next morning Henry Crawford said to his sister, ‘I’ve decided to stay here a few weeks longer, Mary.’

‘Ah, to walk and ride with me, I hope?’

‘I’ll be happy to do that. But I have a more important plan. I want to make Fanny Price fall in love with me.’

‘Fanny Price! Really, Henry! You ought to be satisfied with her two cousins.’

‘But I can’t be satisfied without her. You haven’t realized how much she’s improved in the last six weeks-she’s beautiful now. But even if I do my best to flatter her, she doesn’t smile at me. She’s so different from all the other girls I’ve met! I’m determined to make a small hole in her heart.’

‘Well, don’t make her really unhappy, Henry. She’s a sweet girl, and a dear friend of mine.’

In the next few days Henry tried very hard to make Fanny like him. And although Fanny had not forgotten his bad behavior in the past, she was ready to be polite to him.

But she had someone else to think of – her brother William, who was now in the navy. His ship had returned to England, and Sir Thomas had invited him to stay at Mansfield Park. Soon her dear brother was actually there with her. Fanny cried when she first saw him, and spent most of her time at his side.

Sir Thomas was pleased with William, who was a fine-looking, honest, respectful young man. All the family listened in admiration as William described the dangers of life at sea. Henry Crawford watched Fanny, and saw that her lovely eyes never left her brother’s face. ‘What a girl!’ he thought. ‘If I can only make her fall in love with me!’ He tried harder than ever to please Fanny. Even Sir Thomas, who was usually too grand to notice these things, began to think that Mr Crawford was interested in his niece.

One day Sir Thomas was listening to a conversation between Fanny and William.

‘I don’t, know if I’ll ever get a commission, Fanny,’ William was saying sadly. ‘But I must become an officer if I’m to have a real future in the navy!’

‘Oh my dear William, don’t be sad. I’m sure our uncle will help you get a commission if he can.’

‘Do you like dancing, Fanny?’

‘Yes, very much. But I get tired quickly.’

‘I’d like to see you dance. Don’t you ever have any balls round here?’ Then he noticed Sir Thomas was nearby, and asked him, ‘Is Fanny a very good dancer, sir?’

Fanny was very embarrassed. But her uncle said calmly, ‘I’m afraid I haven’t seen Fanny dance since she was a child.’

‘I have had the pleasure of seeing your sister dance, Mr Price,’ said Henry Crawford, who was also listening. ‘But I can’t tell you about it in front of everyone, because I know she doesn’t like people talking about her.’

In fact Henry Crawford had only seen Fanny at a ball once and he could not really remember very clearly how Fanny had danced there. But his polite and charming words made Sir Thomas feel sure he admired Fanny, and that gave the baronet an idea.

The next day he told his family that he was giving a ball at Mansfield Park, for Fanny and William. Fanny thought it was almost too great an honor. ‘My first ball!’ she thought. ‘I’ll dance with William, and Edmund, I hope. But I’ll have to talk to so many important people, and everyone will look at me! And what shall I wear?’

But when the day of the ball arrived, Fanny really began to enjoy herself. She wore a new dress. And round her neck she wore a cross which William had given her, on a chain which Edmund had given her – presents from the two people who were dearest in the world to her. Another chain which Mary Crawford had given Fanny to wear – an old present from Henry – lay upstairs in Fanny’s room, still in its box.

The ball went much better than she had expected. She had to dance with Henry Crawford. But he spoke politely and gently to her, and she realized how much his behavior had improved. Sir Thomas felt very proud of his niece, and he was sure that Mr Crawford was in love with her. ‘It’s just a question of time before he asks to marry her,’ he thought.

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CHAPTER 7: A proposal of marriage

The day after the ball Henry Crawford went to London on business, William returned to his ship, and Edmund went to stay with a friend, Mr Owen, for a few days. Mary Crawford found she missed Edmund very much. When a week passed with no news of his return, she decided to ask Fanny about him.

‘Are you surprised that your cousin is staying so long at Mr Owen’s?’ she said, as lightly as she could.

‘Not really,’ replied Fanny.

‘But Mr Owen has three daughters, I hear. I expect they are all very pretty. Perhaps they sing well, and play the piano, the harp, or some other instrument.’

‘I know nothing of the Miss Owens,’ replied Fanny calmly.

‘I shall have to leave Mansfield soon myself. I’m sorry I won’t see your cousin again before I leave.’

Fanny’s honesty made her say, ‘You know that people here will miss you greatly.’

Miss Crawford waited for more. But when Fanny was silent, she said with a laugh, ‘Oh well, anyone who wants to see me will be able to find me!’ There was another short silence. ‘I don’t wonder at the Miss Owens. A baronet’s younger son is somebody important, even if he is a clergyman. What do you think, Miss Price? Do you think your cousin Edmund will marry soon?’

‘No, I don’t,’ said Fanny softly, hoping she was right.

Her companion looked happier at this, and changed the subject.

That evening Mary’s brother returned from London. The first thing he did was to visit Mansfield Park.

‘Why were you there so long?’ Mary asked him crossly, when he finally arrived at the Parsonage.

‘I didn’t want to leave any earlier – Fanny looked so lovely! I must tell you, Mary – I am determined to marry Fanny Price.’

Mary’s surprise soon changed to pleasure. ‘Lucky, lucky girl!’ she cried. And you will have the sweetest little wife, who will be very grateful to you! Does she know yet?’

‘No.’

‘What are you waiting for? Take the first opportunity to propose to her, Henry. She will never have the heart to refuse.’

‘I will, Mary.’

The next morning Henry was at. Mansfield Park again, much earlier than the usual visiting hour. Luckily for him, he found Fanny alone.

‘My dear Miss Price,’ he said, ‘it is with great delight that I bring you this news. I have here a commission for your brother William. Would you like to see it?’

Fanny could not speak, but took the papers with a shaking hand. While she read them, Crawford said, ‘This was my reason for going to London.’

‘So you have done this!’ cried Fanny. ‘How very, very kind! How did you manage it?’

‘My uncle is an admiral, you know – Admiral Crawford – and I told him about your brother. He agreed that William would make a fine officer. So he spoke to all the right people, and the result is this commission!’ He took Fanny’s hand. ‘I wanted to help your brother, Miss Price, but I had another reason for doing it. I’m sure you can guess it.’ At first Fanny did not understand what he meant. But soon it became all too clear.

‘Everything I’ve done has been for you, Miss Price! I’ve never felt a love as strong as this before! Say that you like me, say that you love me! I offer myself, my hand, my heart, my fortune to you!’

Fanny did not think he was serious. ‘No, no, no,’ she cried, hiding her face. ‘Don’t say any more! I know it’s all untrue. You’re only flattering me. You don’t really feel for me in that way.’

She pulled away from him and ran out of the room. She felt very confused, and hoped Mr Crawford would never speak to her again like that. ‘He’s probably talked of love like that to fifty other women!’ she told herself. But there was one thing at least she could be happy about in all of this – William was going to be an officer at last.

The next morning Fanny woke early. ‘I hope Mr Crawford and his sister will leave Mansfield soon,’ she thought. ‘Then my worries will be at an end.’ But when she looked out of her sitting room window, she saw Mr Crawford coming to the house. ‘Why has he come so early?’ she wondered. She was determined to stay in her room, and not to talk to him.

After half an hour or so, there was a heavy step outside her sitting room, and her uncle entered.

‘My dear Fanny, Mr Crawford has visited me this morning. I have pleasure in telling you, he greatly admires you and proposes to marry you. I must say, he’s an excellent young man, with a very fine fortune. He’s in the library, and is hoping to see you there.’

‘Oh no, sir, I cannot see him!’ cried Fanny wildly. ‘Mr Crawford knows – I told him yesterday – I don’t want to hear his proposal!’ Sir Thomas was very surprised. ‘Do you mean, Fanny, that you’re going to refuse Mr Crawford?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘For what reason, may I ask?’

‘I – I do not like him enough to marry him, sir.’

‘This is very strange,’ replied Sir Thomas coldly. ‘Here is a young man who is well known to us, who is liked by everybody, and who moves in the best social circles. I cannot understand why you do not like him.’

Fanny said nothing. ‘I can’t explain about Mr Crawford’s true character,’ she thought, ‘because it means telling him about Maria’s and Julia’s bad behavior!’

‘Up to now I’ve had a very good opinion of you, Fanny,’ her uncle went on. ‘I thought you were a good, respectful girl. But now I’m disappointed in you. You’re thinking only of yourself. What about your family? They want you to make a good marriage, and to help them if you can. You seem ungrateful to me. All these years Lady Bertram and I have taken care of you. It is your duty to respect our wishes. You will never have a better proposal than this, and I think you should accept it.’

But Fanny sobbed and sobbed, saying she could never accept Mr Crawford. Sir Thomas began to feel sorry for her, when he saw how miserable she was. He went downstairs to the library to tell Mr Crawford that Fanny was not ready to accept his proposal yet.

In the next few days Fanny had much to bear. Mr Crawford repeated his proposal to her. And although she explained to him that they could never be happy together, he was still determined to persuade her in time. Sir Thomas told Fanny there was no question of making her marry against her wishes, she must decide for herself.

Many surprises were waiting for Edmund when he returned home. The first was seeing Miss Crawford. He had expected her to be in London by now. She welcomed him with delight, and this made him feel more hopeful again.

He was also very pleased to hear of William’s commission, which all the family were talking about.

But the greatest surprise was Henry Crawford’s proposal of marriage. Sir Thomas asked Edmund to use his influence with Fanny to persuade her to accept.

‘Dear. Fanny,’ Edmund said to her later the next day, ‘I know you’re worried about Crawford’s proposal. I think it’s a very honest one. But of course you should refuse him if you really can’t love him.’

‘Oh Edmund! I’m so happy to hear you say that! I thought you were against me, like your father.’

‘No, Fanny. But think of this – Crawford really loves you and wants to make you happy. Let him succeed, Fanny!’

‘Oh, never! He will never persuade me! We are so very different!’

‘Well, I think it may sometimes be good to have a husband and wife who see things differently.’

Fanny knew he was thinking of himself and Mary Crawford. ‘I must say, cousin,’ she said, ‘that I don’t like his character. I haven’t thought well of him since the play. He made both Maria and Julia think he was in love with them!’

‘Don’t think of that time, Fanny, we were all doing wrong then. Think of Crawford’s warm heart! He will make you a happy woman, Fanny, but you – you will make him a good man! It’s what his sister wants too. She speaks so lovingly of you, Fanny!’

Fanny was too tired and miserable to reply. She could not bear to hear Edmund speak admiringly of Miss Crawford.

‘Perhaps he’ll propose to her before she leaves Mansfield,’ she thought sadly.

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CHAPTER 8: A family visit

The day after Edmund returned to Mansfield, Mary Crawford came to visit Fanny in her small sitting room upstairs. Fanny was afraid that Mary would be angry with her for refusing her brother Henry’s proposal of marriage. But instead of talking about that, Mary looked around her, dreamily.

‘It was here in this room that we rehearsed our love scene, your cousin Edmund and I,’ she said softly. ‘I shall never forget those happy moments! Oh, why must such times pass!’

Fanny’s face coloured as she too remembered.

Then Mary shook herself and said with a smile, ‘I feel sure that you and I will be sisters, Fanny. You’re closer to me than all my fashionable London friends. Good, gentle Fanny! I hate to leave you.’ Fanny felt the influence of these loving words, and gave a small sob. ‘Don’t cry, Fanny! Oh, I wish you could see how angry half the young women in London are, now that Henry’s in love with you! Soon you’ll decide you love him, won’t you, Fanny? He loves you with all his heart. And remember, he got your brother’s commission.’

‘Oh yes! I am most grateful to him for that!’ said Fanny feelingly. ‘Well, I must leave you now, dear Fanny. Write to me in London. I expect. I’ll see your cousin Edmund there.’

It was over, and Mary had not guessed Fanny’s love for Edmund. The Crawfords left Mansfield the following morning.

On the same day, Fanny’s brother William arrived for a ten-day holiday, so she was able to forget about Mr Crawford for a while. But Sir Thomas did not want her to forget him. He had a plan which, he hoped, would persuade her to think more kindly of Mr Crawford’s proposal. He suggested that, when William returned to his ship in Portsmouth, Fanny should travel with him and spend some time with her family there. ‘She has lived in a very comfortable home for the last few years,’ he thought. ‘Perhaps she’ll have a better opinion of Mr Crawford and his income after staying with her family and seeing how poor people live.’

Fanny agreed to the plan with delight, and looked forward to seeing her dear family again. Everyone liked the idea, except Lady Bertram. ‘I don’t know how I’ll manage without Fanny!’ she said.

‘But I can be your companion, my dear sister,’ offered Mrs Norris. And so it was decided.

In a few days’ time, Fanny and William were on their way. The journey took two days, and by the time they arrived at the Prices’ small house in Portsmouth, they were both very tired.

Fanny’s mother welcomed her warmly, but her younger brothers and sisters did not remember her well. She was left in a dark corner of the sitting room, while the boys ran around shouting and the girls argued among themselves. Mrs Price and her servant were busy packing the clothes that William was taking back to his ship. Mr Price spoke a few words to Fanny, but soon returned to reading his newspaper.

Fanny felt disappointed and miserable. No one seemed interested in her. What a home it was, an untidy little house in a back street, full of noisy, quarrelling children, with a dirty-looking servant who did not obey orders! Her mother could not control her large family, and looked tired. Her father often swore in a loud voice, and smelt of alcohol.

Fanny thought sadly of Mansfield Park – her kind uncle and aunt, the beautiful rooms, the well-cooked meals, the polite servants, the intelligent conversation. ‘I miss it all so much!’ she said to herself.

But as the days went by, she began to get used to her new life. She spent much of her time with her fourteen-year-old sister, Susan. This young girl had realized how much was wrong at home, and was trying to put things right. Fanny found she had a good influence on Susan, and under her care, her young sister improved greatly. Together they read books, did their sewing, and talked about all kinds of things. Time passed, and Fanny tried not to think about Mr Crawford’s proposal.

Seven weeks after her arrival in Portsmouth, a letter from Edmund arrived.

 

Mansfield Park

My dear Fanny, I am back at home now, less than before. Has Miss Crawford told you of her feelings for me? Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to tell me. But I like the idea that she and I both have you as friend, that we both love you. I spent three weeks in London and saw her often.

I’m afraid her fashionable friends have a bad influence on her – they’ve persuaded her that a woman needs to marry for money and a high social position, but I can’t give her up, Fanny. She’s the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as my wife. I think she has real goodness, but she hides with her playful behavior. Perhaps I’ll explain myself by writing to her. I can’t live much longer without knowing how she feels.

I had dinner at the Rushworths’ house. They don’t seem to be an unhappy couple. And Julia is London very much. Mr Yates visits her from time to time.

I shall write to Miss Crawford.

Yours ever, dearest Fanny,

Edmund

 

Fanny could not control herself. She sobbed bitterly as she read his letter. ‘He can’t give her up! Oh, he’ll marry her, and be poor and miserable all his life! The only woman in the world he could ever think of as his wife! Oh, Edmund!’

More bad news arrived a few days later, in a letter from Lady Bertram. She told Fanny that Tom Bertram had fallen from his horse while on a visit to the races. After a lot of drinking, two friends had carried him to another friend’s house, and had left him there, with only servants to take care of him. He had caught a fever, and was now seriously ill. Sir Thomas had gone in a carriage to fetch him, and Tom was now safely back at Mansfield Park. But the doctors said that his life was in great danger.

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CHAPTER 9: News from London

About a week after she heard about Tom’s fall and illness, Fanny received a second letter from Edmund. He told her that Tom’s fever had gone, but that he was still very seriously ill. Edmund was spending most of his time by Tom’s bedside, and when she read these words, Fanny loved Edmund all the more for his care of his brother. She noticed sadly that, even in these difficult times, Mary was not far from Edmund’s thoughts. At the end of the letter, Edmund had written:

‘In my last letter I wrote to you about my feelings for Miss Crawford. Well, I started to write to her, but I fear the influence of her friends. If she asks them what she should do, they’ll persuade her against me. So I’ve decided that, when Tom is better, I’ll go to London and speak to her there myself.’

The weeks passed, and Tom’s health improved painfully slowly. Fanny hoped that when Easter came, her uncle would send a carriage to fetch her. It would soon be almost three months that she had been away from Mansfield Park. She knew how useful she could be there – playing cards with Lady Bertram to amuse her, reading to poor, sick Tom, listening to Mrs Norris, taking messages from one end of the house to another. She longed to be there, with all the family. Now she realized that Portsmouth was just Portsmouth, but Mansfield Park was home.

But Easter was very late this year, and there was still no word from her uncle. ‘I suppose he’s too worried about Tom to think of me,’ she thought miserably. ‘But what about Tom’s sisters? They don’t seem worried at all! It’s easy for them to travel, but they both prefer to stay in London!’

Then, a few days later, Fanny received a letter from Mary Crawford. It said:

 

London

My dear Fanny,

I write to ask you how things are at Mansfield Park. Of course, this is a worrying time for Tom Bertram’s family. People here are saying that he’s in danger of dying. Is that true? I need not say how pleased I shall he if there has been any mistake. Now don’t smile like that, Fanny, I promise you I’ve never bribed a doctor in my life! It’s always sad when a young man dies. But I can’t help thinking that ‘Sir Edmund’ would do more good with the Bertram fortune than his older brother ‘Sir Tom’. Write to me by return of post with your answer – I need to know as soon as possible.

Henry tells me he’s visited Maria Rushworth, who’s spending the Easter holiday with some friends – her husband is away at the moment. Now don’t be jealous – Henry loves only you, and he’s wild to see you again. Dear fanny, if you want to return to Mansfield Park, just let me know. Henry and I can take you there in his carriage, and stay a few days at the Parsonage. It will be no trouble, and we can see our friends at Mansfield Park. I think Edmund would be in London, if Tom weren’t ill – don’t you agree?

Yours ever,

Mary

 

Fanny was disgusted by this letter. It showed the true characters of both Henry and Mary Crawford in the clearest possible light. Mary had a cold-hearted interest in money and social position. She was suddenly eager to marry Edmund, if he became a baronet and had a large fortune. ‘Bribing a doctor!’ thought Fanny in horror. ‘How can she joke about that kind of thing, and talk so lightly of Tom’s death!’ And Henry was continuing his bad behavior with Maria, now a married woman. Far from feeling jealous, Fanny was disappointed in him, she had thought his character was improving.

There was no difficulty about her reply. She wrote a few short lines, describing honestly the seriousness of Tom’s illness, and politely refusing Miss Crawford’s offer to take her back to Mansfield. She knew she must wait for her uncle to decide when she should return.

Fanny thought Miss Crawford would write again, to ask for more information and to repeat her offer. Sure enough, a week later she received a second letter from Mary. As she opened it, she was surprised to see how short it was. This was the letter:

 

London

Dear Fanny,

A most unpleasant rumor has readied me, and I’m writing now to warn you not to listen to it if it reaches you. I expect there is some mistake, and in a day or two it will all he dear.

I’m sure Henry has done nothing wrong – maybe his head was turned for a moment, but I know he thinks of no one except you. Don’t say a word to anyone about this, don’t even whisper it, until I write again. It will all quieten down and the only thing that people will remember about it all is that Mr Rushworth was so stupid! Perhaps they’ve gone to Mansfield Park, and perhaps Julia is with them. But why didn’t you let us fetch you from Portsmouth? I hope you aren’t going to regret it.

Yours ever,

Mary

 

Fanny looked up from her reading in horror. No unpleasant rumor had reached her, so she did not fully understand this strange letter. She could only guess that something very bad had happened. ‘What could it be?’ she wondered.

‘Is it the Rushworths who’ve gone away? And what has Mr Crawford done? Oh dear, this rumor will worry them all at Mansfield Park! I really hope Mary writes again soon. I must know what’s happened!’

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CHAPTER 10: Two more weddings

The next day came, but there was no letter for Fanny, either from Mary Crawford or from Mansfield Park. Fanny was very disappointed, she could think of nothing but that strange and terrible rumor that Mary had talked about. What could it be? In the afternoon her father brought the daily newspaper home. Fanny sat in the hot, dirty sitting room, with a headache, while he read it.

Suddenly he said, ‘What’s the name of your rich cousins in London, Fanny?’

‘Rushworth, sir.’

‘Well, they’re very fine people, to be sure! It says here that Mrs Rushworth has left her husband’s house. It seems she’s run away with a Mr Crawford! What will the great Sir Thomas think of that?’

‘There must be some mistake!’ cried Fanny. But when she read the report herself, she knew it was true. She was too shocked and disgusted to say any more. Now she understood Miss Crawford’s letter clearly. Now she could see her own earlier mistake about who had gone away – it was not Mr and Mrs Rushworth, it was Mrs Rushworth and Henry Crawford.

She did not sleep that night. ‘Maria, married for only six months, and Henry, who said he loved me – it’s terrible!’ she thought feverishly. ‘The Bertrams will be so miserable! Sir Thomas will feel the disgrace very strongly. And Edmund, poor Edmund…’ She could not bear to think of his feelings.

There was no more news for two days, but on the third day she received a letter from Edmund.

 

Mansfield Park

Dear Fanny I expect you have heard by now about Maria and Mr Crawford, but I have more bad news to tell you. Julia has eloped with Mr Yates! My father wishes you to return home, to be a comfort to my mother at this difficult time. He invites your sister Susan to come with you. I’ll be in Portsmouth the morning after you receive this, to bring you both to Mansfield Park. Don’t ask me to describe my feelings.

Yours over,

Edmund

 

Fanny was surprised and shocked to hear about Julia. But the good news was that she would sec Edmund the next day, and return to her dear Mansfield Park. She now had a lot to do – telling Susan and her parents about the invitation, packing clothes for both of them, and getting everything ready for the journey. She was almost able to forget, for a while, the horror of what Maria Rushworth and Henry Crawford had done.

Edmund arrived early the next morning. For a moment he held Fanny in his arms, saying. ‘Dearest Fanny – my only sister – my only comfort now!’ She noticed sadly how ill and unhappy he looked.

Soon all three of them were on their way. With Susan in the carriage, there was no opportunity to talk about Maria, Julia, or the Crawfords. It was a silent journey. Edmund kept his eyes closed most of the time. Fanny looked eagerly out of the window at the road which was bringing her closer to Mansfield Park. Susan was looking forward excitedly to her first visit to the great house.

When they arrived at Mansfield Park, it was clear how miserable everyone there was. Mrs Norris was really the unhappiest of them all. Maria was her favourite, and the marriage to Mr Rushworth was the result of her work. So this disgrace was almost too much for her to bear.

Unusually for her. Lady Bertram was also miserable. But she received Fanny back into the family with delight, and welcomed Susan very kindly. Fanny was able to be a great comfort to her aunt again. Once they had fully discussed the terrible business, Fanny helped her aunt to think of other subjects of conversation. Soon Lady Bertram became calmer.

Fanny also saw how unhappy her poor uncle was. He had been to London to try to find Maria, but with no success. Mr Rushworth was very angry, and wanted a divorce. He was determined that Maria should never enter his house again. Sir Thomas had other worries, too. Julia’s disgrace was less than Maria’s, but in his opinion she had chosen a useless young man to elope with. ‘What will happen if Yates refuses to marry her?’ he thought.

Then there was Tom, who had been shocked by Maria’s behavior and whose illness had recently got worse. And finally, Sir Thomas was worried about Edmund. He knew his younger son was in love with Miss Crawford, and had no chance of happiness with her now.

Fanny herself was worried about Edmund, too. ‘Is he still in love with Miss Crawford?’ she wondered. It was fully two days before he began to talk to her on the subject.

‘If you don’t mind, my dear Fanny, I want to tell you what happened at my last meeting with her,’ he said. ‘It will be a great relief to talk about it. When I went to London with my father to find Maria, Miss Crawford asked me to visit her, so I did. I thought she’d be ashamed of her brother’s behavior, but, oh Fanny, she wasn’t! She spoke of it lightly, she even joked about it! She called Henry and Maria stupid, that’s all, and wished you’d agreed to marry him. Fanny, I know I was confused before, but my eyes have been opened. I see now what kind of character she has.’

‘What happened next?’ asked Fanny. She longed to know how the conversation had ended.

‘She went on to say that Henry must give you up, of course. She hoped to persuade him to marry Maria!’ Edmund stopped, and it was some time before he could speak again. ‘In my reply I told her we would never want Maria to marry a man like Henry Crawford. I told her how much she’d hurt me. I hadn’t realized how different her opinions were from mine. She has no understanding of honour, and no idea of the disgrace to our family! I said that perhaps it was all for the best – I had less to regret in giving her up. I must say, she looked surprised, and a little embarrassed at that. She said goodbye to me in a laughing, careless way, and I left the room. Just then I heard her voice behind me. “Mr Bertram,” she said. I looked round and saw her playful smile, inviting me back. I walked on. I have since – but only for a moment – regretted that I didn’t go back. But I know I was right! Thank you for listening, Fanny. This has been the greatest relief to me.’

From now on, Fanny was happy to be at home again, happy to be useful, happy to be safe from Henry Crawford. She was happier still that Edmund now understood Mary Crawford’s true character.

Sir Thomas knew he had made mistakes as a father. He had never taught his daughters to think of others, or to do always what was right. The result was that they did not seem to know their duty to the church, their family, or their social position. But there was some good news of Julia. She and Mr Yates were actually married, and she was really sorry for her behavior. Sir Thomas accepted her apology, and once he’d got used to the idea, he decided that Mr Yates wasn’t a bad husband for his younger daughter after all.

He was also happier about Tom, who was now in good health again. Tom’s character had improved since his illness and Maria’s disgrace. He no longer thought only of himself, and had become a real help to his father.

But there was no easy answer to the problem of Maria. Mr Rushworth got his divorce, but Mr Crawford did not in the end want to marry her. Sir Thomas refused to have her back under his roof. So he decided to buy a small house for her in the country, far from Mansfield, and Mrs Norris went to live with her there. The baronet thought the two women would punish each other more than enough.

Very soon Edmund stopped regretting Mary Crawford, and started thinking about a very different kind of woman. He realized there was someone, who was already very dear to him, who would make a far better wife for him than Miss Crawford. He had no difficulty in persuading Fanny to accept his proposal. She had loved him since she was ten, and her wedding day was the happiest time of her life.

Sir Thomas was highly satisfied with the wife his son had chosen. ‘Taking Fanny into my home to bring her up all those years ago was the best thing I ever did!’ he told himself proudly. ‘She’s a better daughter to me than my own girls!’

Even Lady Bertram was persuaded to manage without Fanny, because she now had young Susan to fetch and carry for her.

When Dr Grant died, Edmund was able to take the living at Mansfield. He and Fanny moved into the Parsonage, close to Mansfield Park. With true love, and a good income, and many friends, the young couple were as happy as any young couple could be.

– THE END –

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