Seven weeks of the two months were very nearly gone, when the one letter, th_etter from Edmund, so long expected, was put into Fanny's hands. As sh_pened, and saw its length, she prepared herself for a minute detail o_appiness and a profusion of love and praise towards the fortunate creatur_ho was now mistress of his fate. These were the contents—
"My Dear Fanny,—Excuse me that I have not written before. Crawford told m_hat you were wishing to hear from me, but I found it impossible to write fro_ondon, and persuaded myself that you would understand my silence. Could _ave sent a few happy lines, they should not have been wanting, but nothing o_hat nature was ever in my power. I am returned to Mansfield in a less assure_tate that when I left it. My hopes are much weaker. You are probably aware o_his already. So very fond of you as Miss Crawford is, it is most natural tha_he should tell you enough of her own feelings to furnish a tolerable guess a_ine. I will not be prevented, however, from making my own communication. Ou_onfidences in you need not clash. I ask no questions. There is somethin_oothing in the idea that we have the same friend, and that whatever unhapp_ifferences of opinion may exist between us, we are united in our love of you.
It will be a comfort to me to tell you how things now are, and what are m_resent plans, if plans I can be said to have. I have been returned sinc_aturday. I was three weeks in London, and saw her (for London) very often. _ad every attention from the Frasers that could be reasonably expected. I dar_ay I was not reasonable in carrying with me hopes of an intercourse at al_ike that of Mansfield. It was her manner, however, rather than an_nfrequency of meeting. Had she been different when I did see her, I shoul_ave made no complaint, but from the very first she was altered: my firs_eception was so unlike what I had hoped, that I had almost resolved o_eaving London again directly. I need not particularise. You know the wea_ide of her character, and may imagine the sentiments and expressions whic_ere torturing me. She was in high spirits, and surrounded by those who wer_iving all the support of their own bad sense to her too lively mind. I do no_ike Mrs. Fraser. She is a cold-hearted, vain woman, who has married entirel_rom convenience, and though evidently unhappy in her marriage, places he_isappointment not to faults of judgment, or temper, or disproportion of age,
but to her being, after all, less affluent than many of her acquaintance,
especially than her sister, Lady Stornaway, and is the determined supporter o_verything mercenary and ambitious, provided it be only mercenary an_mbitious enough. I look upon her intimacy with those two sisters as th_reatest misfortune of her life and mine. They have been leading her astra_or years. Could she be detached from them!— and sometimes I do not despair o_t, for the affection appears to me principally on their side. They are ver_ond of her; but I am sure she does not love them as she loves you. When _hink of her great attachment to you, indeed, and the whole of her judicious,
upright conduct as a sister, she appears a very different creature, capable o_verything noble, and I am ready to blame myself for a too harsh constructio_f a playful manner. I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in th_orld whom I could ever think of as a wife. If I did not believe that she ha_ome regard for me, of course I should not say this, but I do believe it. I a_onvinced that she is not without a decided preference. I have no jealousy o_ny individual. It is the influence of the fashionable world altogether that _m jealous of. It is the habits of wealth that I fear. Her ideas are no_igher than her own fortune may warrant, but they are beyond what our income_nited could authorise. There is comfort, however, even here. I could bette_ear to lose her because not rich enough, than because of my profession. Tha_ould only prove her affection not equal to sacrifices, which, in fact, I a_carcely justified in asking; and, if I am refused, that, I think, will be th_onest motive. Her prejudices, I trust, are not so strong as they were. Yo_ave my thoughts exactly as they arise, my dear Fanny; perhaps they ar_ometimes contradictory, but it will not be a less faithful picture of m_ind. Having once begun, it is a pleasure to me to tell you all I feel. _annot give her up. Connected as we already are, and, I hope, are to be, t_ive up Mary Crawford would be to give up the society of some of those mos_ear to me; to banish myself from the very houses and friends whom, under an_ther distress, I should turn to for consolation. The loss of Mary I mus_onsider as comprehending the loss of Crawford and of Fanny. Were it a decide_hing, an actual refusal, I hope I should know how to bear it, and how t_ndeavour to weaken her hold on my heart, and in the course of a few years—
but I am writing nonsense. Were I refused, I must bear it; and till I am, _an never cease to try for her. This is the truth. The only question is how?
What may be the likeliest means? I have sometimes thought of going to Londo_gain after Easter, and sometimes resolved on doing nothing till she return_o Mansfield. Even now, she speaks with pleasure of being in Mansfield i_une; but June is at a great distance, and I believe I shall write to her. _ave nearly determined on explaining myself by letter. To be at an earl_ertainty is a material object. My present state is miserably irksome.
Considering everything, I think a letter will be decidedly the best method o_xplanation. I shall be able to write much that I could not say, and shall b_iving her time for reflection before she resolves on her answer, and I a_ess afraid of the result of reflection than of an immediate hasty impulse; _hink I am. My greatest danger would lie in her consulting Mrs. Fraser, and _t a distance unable to help my own cause. A letter exposes to all the evil o_onsultation, and where the mind is anything short of perfect decision, a_dviser may, in an unlucky moment, lead it to do what it may afterward_egret. I must think this matter over a little. This long letter, full of m_wn concerns alone, will be enough to tire even the friendship of a Fanny. Th_ast time I saw Crawford was at Mrs. Fraser's party. I am more and mor_atisfied with all that I see and hear of him. There is not a shadow o_avering. He thoroughly knows his own mind, and acts up to his resolutions: a_nestimable quality. I could not see him and my eldest sister in the same roo_ithout recollecting what you once told me, and I acknowledge that they di_ot meet as friends. There was marked coolness on her side. They scarcel_poke. I saw him draw back surprised, and I was sorry that Mrs. Rushwort_hould resent any former supposed slight to Miss Bertram. You will wish t_ear my opinion of Maria's degree of comfort as a wife. There is no appearanc_f unhappiness. I hope they get on pretty well together. I dined twice i_impole Street, and might have been there oftener, but it is mortifying to b_ith Rushworth as a brother. Julia seems to enjoy London exceedingly. I ha_ittle enjoyment there, but have less here. We are not a lively party. You ar_ery much wanted. I miss you more than I can express. My mother desires he_est love, and hopes to hear from you soon. She talks of you almost ever_our, and I am sorry to find how many weeks more she is likely to be withou_ou. My father means to fetch you himself, but it will not be till afte_aster, when he has business in town. You are happy at Portsmouth, I hope, bu_his must not be a yearly visit. I want you at home, that I may have you_pinion about Thornton Lacey. I have little heart for extensive improvement_ill I know that it will ever have a mistress. I think I shall certainl_rite. It is quite settled that the Grants go to Bath; they leave Mansfield o_onday. I am glad of it. I am not comfortable enough to be fit for anybody;
but your aunt seems to feel out of luck that such an article of Mansfield new_hould fall to my pen instead of hers.—Yours ever, my dearest Fanny."
"I never will, no, I certainly never will wish for a letter again," wa_anny's secret declaration as she finished this. "What do they bring bu_isappointment and sorrow? Not till after Easter! How shall I bear it? And m_oor aunt talking of me every hour!"
Fanny checked the tendency of these thoughts as well as she could, but she wa_ithin half a minute of starting the idea that Sir Thomas was quite unkind,
both to her aunt and to herself. As for the main subject of the letter, ther_as nothing in that to soothe irritation. She was almost vexed int_ispleasure and anger against Edmund. "There is no good in this delay," sai_he. "Why is not it settled? He is blinded, and nothing will open his eyes;
nothing can, after having had truths before him so long in vain. He will marr_er, and be poor and miserable. God grant that her influence do not make hi_ease to be respectable!" She looked over the letter again. "'So very fond o_e!' 'tis nonsense all. She loves nobody but herself and her brother. He_riends leading her astray for years! She is quite as likely to have led the_stray. They have all, perhaps, been corrupting one another; but if they ar_o much fonder of her than she is of them, she is the less likely to have bee_urt, except by their flattery. 'The only woman in the world whom he coul_ver think of as a wife.' I firmly believe it. It is an attachment to gover_is whole life. Accepted or refused, his heart is wedded to her for ever. 'Th_oss of Mary I must consider as comprehending the loss of Crawford and Fanny.'
Edmund, you do not know me. The families would never be connected if you di_ot connect them! Oh! write, write. Finish it at once. Let there be an end o_his suspense. Fix, commit, condemn yourself."
Such sensations, however, were too near akin to resentment to be long guidin_anny's soliloquies. She was soon more softened and sorrowful. His war_egard, his kind expressions, his confidential treatment, touched he_trongly. He was only too good to everybody. It was a letter, in short, whic_he would not but have had for the world, and which could never be value_nough. This was the end of it.
Everybody at all addicted to letter-writing, without having much to say, whic_ill include a large proportion of the female world at least, must feel wit_ady Bertram that she was out of luck in having such a capital piece o_ansfield news as the certainty of the Grants going to Bath, occur at a tim_hen she could make no advantage of it, and will admit that it must have bee_ery mortifying to her to see it fall to the share of her thankless son, an_reated as concisely as possible at the end of a long letter, instead o_aving it to spread over the largest part of a page of her own. For thoug_ady Bertram rather shone in the epistolary line, having early in he_arriage, from the want of other employment, and the circumstance of Si_homas's being in Parliament, got into the way of making and keepin_orrespondents, and formed for herself a very creditable, common-place,
amplifying style, so that a very little matter was enough for her: she coul_ot do entirely without any; she must have something to write about, even t_er niece; and being so soon to lose all the benefit of Dr. Grant's gout_ymptoms and Mrs. Grant's morning calls, it was very hard upon her to b_eprived of one of the last epistolary uses she could put them to.
There was a rich amends, however, preparing for her. Lady Bertram's hour o_ood luck came. Within a few days from the receipt of Edmund's letter, Fann_ad one from her aunt, beginning thus—
"My Dear Fanny,—I take up my pen to communicate some very alarmin_ntelligence, which I make no doubt will give you much concern".
This was a great deal better than to have to take up the pen to acquaint he_ith all the particulars of the Grants' intended journey, for the presen_ntelligence was of a nature to promise occupation for the pen for many day_o come, being no less than the dangerous illness of her eldest son, of whic_hey had received notice by express a few hours before.
Tom had gone from London with a party of young men to Newmarket, where _eglected fall and a good deal of drinking had brought on a fever; and whe_he party broke up, being unable to move, had been left by himself at th_ouse of one of these young men to the comforts of sickness and solitude, an_he attendance only of servants. Instead of being soon well enough to follo_is friends, as he had then hoped, his disorder increased considerably, and i_as not long before he thought so ill of himself as to be as ready as hi_hysician to have a letter despatched to Mansfield.
"This distressing intelligence, as you may suppose," observed her ladyship,
after giving the substance of it, "has agitated us exceedingly, and we canno_revent ourselves from being greatly alarmed and apprehensive for the poo_nvalid, whose state Sir Thomas fears may be very critical; and Edmund kindl_roposes attending his brother immediately, but I am happy to add that Si_homas will not leave me on this distressing occasion, as it would be to_rying for me. We shall greatly miss Edmund in our small circle, but I trus_nd hope he will find the poor invalid in a less alarming state than might b_pprehended, and that he will be able to bring him to Mansfield shortly, whic_ir Thomas proposes should be done, and thinks best on every account, and _latter myself the poor sufferer will soon be able to bear the removal withou_aterial inconvenience or injury. As I have little doubt of your feeling fo_s, my dear Fanny, under these distressing circumstances, I will write agai_ery soon."
Fanny's feelings on the occasion were indeed considerably more warm an_enuine than her aunt's style of writing. She felt truly for them all. To_angerously ill, Edmund gone to attend him, and the sadly small part_emaining at Mansfield, were cares to shut out every other care, or almos_very other. She could just find selfishness enough to wonder whether Edmun_ad written to Miss Crawford before this summons came, but no sentiment dwel_ong with her that was not purely affectionate and disinterestedly anxious.
Her aunt did not neglect her: she wrote again and again; they were receivin_requent accounts from Edmund, and these accounts were as regularl_ransmitted to Fanny, in the same diffuse style, and the same medley o_rusts, hopes, and fears, all following and producing each other at haphazard.
It was a sort of playing at being frightened. The sufferings which Lad_ertram did not see had little power over her fancy; and she wrote ver_omfortably about agitation, and anxiety, and poor invalids, till Tom wa_ctually conveyed to Mansfield, and her own eyes had beheld his altere_ppearance. Then a letter which she had been previously preparing for Fann_as finished in a different style, in the language of real feeling and alarm;
then she wrote as she might have spoken. "He is just come, my dear Fanny, an_s taken upstairs; and I am so shocked to see him, that I do not know what t_o. I am sure he has been very ill. Poor Tom! I am quite grieved for him, an_ery much frightened, and so is Sir Thomas; and how glad I should be if yo_ere here to comfort me. But Sir Thomas hopes he will be better to-morrow, an_ays we must consider his journey."
The real solicitude now awakened in the maternal bosom was not soon over.
Tom's extreme impatience to be removed to Mansfield, and experience thos_omforts of home and family which had been little thought of in uninterrupte_ealth, had probably induced his being conveyed thither too early, as a retur_f fever came on, and for a week he was in a more alarming state than ever.
They were all very seriously frightened. Lady Bertram wrote her daily terror_o her niece, who might now be said to live upon letters, and pass all he_ime between suffering from that of to-day and looking forward to to-morrow's.
Without any particular affection for her eldest cousin, her tenderness o_eart made her feel that she could not spare him, and the purity of he_rinciples added yet a keener solicitude, when she considered how littl_seful, how little self-denying his life had (apparently) been.
Susan was her only companion and listener on this, as on more commo_ccasions. Susan was always ready to hear and to sympathise. Nobody else coul_e interested in so remote an evil as illness in a family above an hundre_iles off; not even Mrs. Price, beyond a brief question or two, if she saw he_aughter with a letter in her hand, and now and then the quiet observation of,
"My poor sister Bertram must be in a great deal of trouble."
So long divided and so differently situated, the ties of blood were littl_ore than nothing. An attachment, originally as tranquil as their tempers, wa_ow become a mere name. Mrs. Price did quite as much for Lady Bertram as Lad_ertram would have done for Mrs. Price. Three or four Prices might have bee_wept away, any or all except Fanny and William, and Lady Bertram would hav_hought little about it; or perhaps might have caught from Mrs. Norris's lip_he cant of its being a very happy thing and a great blessing to their poo_ear sister Price to have them so well provided for.