As Fanny could not doubt that her answer was conveying a real disappointment, she was rather in expectation, from her knowledge of Miss Crawford's temper, of being urged again; and though no second letter arrived for the space of a week, she had still the same feeling when it did come.
On receiving it, she could instantly decide on its containing little writing, and was persuaded of its having the air of a letter of haste and business. Its object was unquestionable; and two moments were enough to start the probability of its being merely to give her notice that they should be in Portsmouth that very day, and to throw her into all the agitationdisperseapplied4 to her uncle and obtained his permission was giving her ease. This was the letter--
Fanny stood aghast. As no scandalous, ill-natured rumour had reached her, it was impossible for her to understand much of this strange letter. She could only perceive that it must relate to Wimpole Street and Mr. Crawford, and only conjecturejealousyapprehension11, if she heard it. Miss Crawford need not be alarmed for her. She was only sorry for the parties concerned and for Mansfield, if the report should spread so far; but she hoped it might not. If the Rushworths were gone themselves to Mansfield, as was to be inferred from what Miss Crawford said, it was not likely that anything unpleasant should have preceded them, or at least should make any impression.
As to Mr. Crawford, she hoped it might give him a knowledge of his own dispositionsteadily13 attached to any one woman in the world, and shame him from persisting any longer in addressing herself.
It was very strange! She had begun to think he really loved her, and to fancy his affection for her something more than common; and his sister still said that he cared for nobody else. Yet there must have been some marked display of attentions to her cousin, there must have been some strong indiscretion, since her correspondent was not of a sort to regard a slight one.
Very uncomfortable she was, and must continue, till she heard from Miss Crawford again. It was impossible to banishsecrecy15 with so much warmth; she might have trusted to her sense of what was due to her cousin.
The next day came and brought no second letter. Fanny was disappointed. She could still think of little else all the morning; but, when her father came back in the afternoon with the daily newspaper as usual, she was so far from expecting any elucidation16
through such a channel that the subject was for a moment out of her head.
A moment's recollection enabled her to say, "Rushworth, sir."
"And don't they live in Wimpole Street?"
"Then, there's the devil to pay among them, that's all! There" (holding out the paper to her); "much good may such fine relations do you. I don't know what Sir Thomas may think of such matters; he may be too much of the courtier and fine gentleman to like his daughter the less. But, by G--! if she belonged to me, I'd give her the rope's end as long as I could stand over her. A little flogging for man and woman too would be the best way of preventing such things."
Fanny read to herself that "it was with infinite concern the newspaper had to announce to the world a matrimonial fracasenrolled29 in the lists of Hymen, and who had promised to become so brilliant a leader in the fashionable world, having quitted her husband's roof in company with the well-known and captivating Mr. C., the intimate friend and associate of Mr. R., and it was not known even to the editor of the newspaper whither they were gone."
"It is a mistake, sir," said Fanny instantly; "it must be a mistake, it cannot be true; it must mean some other people."
She spokeinstinctive31 wish of delaying shame; she spoke with a resolution which sprung from despair, for she spoke what she did not, could not believe herself. It had been the shock of conviction as she read. The truth rushed on her; and how she could have spoken at all, how she could even have breathed, was afterwards matter of wonder to herself.
Mr. Price cared too little about the report to make her much answer. "It might be all a lie," he acknowledged; "but so many fine ladies were going to the devil nowadays that way, that there was no answering for anybody."
"Indeed, I hope it is not true," said Mrs. Price plaintively32
; "it would be so very shocking! If I have spoken once to Rebecca about that carpet, I am sure I have spoke at least a dozen times; have not I, Betsey? And it would not be ten minutes' work."
The horror of a mind like Fanny's, as it received the conviction of such guiltmiseryfrightfulconformitygloss37 it over, and desire to have it unpunished, she could believe Miss Crawford to be the woman! Now she could see her own mistake as to who were gone, or said to be gone. It was not Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth; it was Mrs. Rushworth and Mr. Crawford.
Fanny seemed to herself never to have been shocked before. There was no possibility of rest. The evening passed without a pause of misery, the night was totally sleeplessprofessingdevotedjudgmentdecidedattachment43, and no sufficient principle on either side, gave it possibility: Miss Crawford's letter stampt it a fact.
What would be the consequence? Whom would it not injure? Whose views might it not affect? Whose peace would it not cut up for ever? Miss Crawford, herself, Edmund; but it was dangerous, perhaps, to tread such ground. She confined herself, or tried to confine herself, to the simple, indubitable family misery which must envelopcertifiedparentalsolicitudeblessing48 to every one of kindred with Mrs. Rushworth would be instant annihilation.
Nothing happened the next day, or the next, to weaken her terrors. Two posts came in, and brought no refutation, public or private. There was no second letter to explain away the first from Miss Crawford; there was no intelligence from Mansfield, though it was now full time for her to hear again from her aunt. This was an evil omensoothewan18 and trembling a condition, as no mother, not unkind, except Mrs. Price could have overlooked, when the third day did bring the sickening knock, and a letter was again put into her hands. It bore the London postmark, and came from Edmund.
"Dear Fanny,--You know our present wretchedness. May God support you under your share! We have been here two days, but there is nothing to be done. They cannot be traced. You may not have heard of the last blow--Julia's elopement; she is gone to Scotland with Yates. She left London a few hours before we entered it. At any other time this would have been felt dreadfully. Now it seems nothing; yet it is an heavy aggravation52
. My father is not overpowered. More cannot be hoped. He is still able to think and act; and I write, by his desire, to propose your returning home. He is anxious to get you there for my mother's sake. I shall be at Portsmouth the morning after you receive this, and hope to find you ready to set off for Mansfield. My father wishes you to invite Susan to go with you for a few months. Settle it as you like; say what is proper; I am sure you will feel such an instance of his kindness at such a moment! Do justice to his meaning, however I may confuse it. You may imagine something of my present state. There is no end of the evil let loose upon us. You will see me early by the mail.--Yours, etc."
There is nothing like employment, active indispensable employment, for relieving sorrow. Employment, even melancholy, may dispelfixedbrieflyecstasy65 of Susan herself, was all serving to support her spirits.
The affliction of the Bertrams was little felt in the family. Mrs. Price talked of her poor sister for a few minutes, but how to find anything to hold Susan's clothes, because Rebecca took away all the boxes and spoilt them, was much more in her thoughts: and as for Susan, now unexpectedly gratified in the first wish of her heart, and knowing nothing personally of those who had sinned, or of those who were sorrowing--if she could help rejoicing from beginning to end, it was as much as ought to be expected from human virtue66
As nothing was really left for the decision of Mrs. Price, or the good offices of Rebecca, everything was rationally and duly accomplishedagitated68 spirits--one all happiness, the other all varying and indescribable perturbation.
By eight in the morning Edmund was in the house. The girls heard his entrance from above, and Fanny went down. The idea of immediately seeing him, with the knowledge of what he must be suffering, brought back all her own first feelings. He so near her, and in misery. She was ready to sink as she entered the parlour. He was alone, and met her instantly; and she found herself pressed to his heart with only these words, just articulate, "My Fanny, my only sister; my only comfort now!" She could say nothing; nor for some minutes could he say more.
He turned away to recover himself, and when he spoke again, though his voice still falteredallusion70. "Have you breakfasted? When shall you be ready? Does Susan go?" were questions following each other rapidly. His great object was to be off as soon as possible. When Mansfield was considered, time was precious; and the state of his own mind made him find relief only in motion. It was settled that he should order the carriage to the door in half an hour. Fanny answered for their having breakfasted and being quite ready in half an hour. He had already ate, and declined staying for their meal. He would walk round the ramparts, and join them with the carriage. He was gone again; glad to get away even from Fanny.
He looked very ill; evidently suffering under violent emotions, which he was determined71
to suppress. She knew it must be so, but it was terrible to her.
The carriage came; and he entered the house again at the same moment, just in time to spend a few minutes with the family, and be a witness--but that he saw nothing--of the tranquildinthospitably74 as she had been welcomed.
The journey was likely to be a silent one. Edmund's deep sighs often reached Fanny. Had he been alone with her, his heart must have opened in spite of every resolution; but Susan's presence drove him quite into himself, and his attempts to talk on indifferent subjects could never be long supported.
Fanny watched him with never-failing solicitude, and sometimes catchingOxfordstandingalterationundueexpressive83 tone, "No wonder--you must feel it--you must suffer. How a man who had once loved, could desert you! But yours--your regard was new compared with----Fanny, think of me!"
The first division of their journey occupied a long day, and brought them, almost knocked up, to Oxford; but the second was over at a much earlier hour. They were in the environs of Mansfield long before the usual dinner-time, and as they approached the beloved place, the hearts of both sisters sank a little. Fanny began to dreadhumiliationmeditatingplantationsfullydelightfulremainsenjoyment89, however, was for herself alone. Edmund could not share it. She looked at him, but he was leaning back, sunk in a deeper gloom than ever, and with eyes closed, as if the view of cheerfulness oppressed him, and the lovely scenes of home must be shut out.
It made her melancholy again; and the knowledge of what must be enduring there, invested even the house, modern, airy, and well situated90
as it was, with a melancholy aspect.
By one of the suffering party within they were expected with such impatience91
as she had never known before. Fanny had scarcely passed the solemn-looking servants, when Lady Bertram came from the drawing-room to meet her; came with no indolent step; and falling on her neck, said, "Dear Fanny! now I shall be comfortable."