AN: Delighted I was to see that I'm not the only one who, upon finishing Mansfield Park, left off with a strong affinity for a Mr. Henry Crawford. In no other character had Dear Jane crafted such a singular example of the adage, "…so close, yet so far away…" Poor, poor Henry! Of course, being that I love complex characters, rich in the tapestry of both good and ill character traits, Henry Crawford fanned the tenderest of sensibilities within my overactive imagination! To deliver unto him the redemptive ending he must deserve became a tantalizing prospect!
Thus, I sequestered myself in my little 'room of my own' and put hands to keyboard to begin the following story over a year ago. To finish it may not be within my power, as writing Austen-style is exceedingly taxing to this modern brain, yet… I shall attempt it. Do be kind in your estimation of this little story. And do, please, take with firm tongue in cheek the affectation of speech in this humble Author's Note. ;-)
It should be understood by all, that a man disappointed in love will seldom examine his own heart in the matter; when all hope in love is gone the gentleman pursues the course set down by his obligations. Having lost in matters of the heart the gentleman of property will turn to the business of his tenants for comfort; the man of trade his factory; those of the navy to their commission.
Having immediately fled the particular comforts of Mrs. Rushworth's society, Henry Crawford intended just such manly course to heal the wounds suffered not at the hand of that fine lady as much as by the knowledge of his own character sinking forever in the esteem of her beloved cousin. To Norfolk the gentleman purposed; within the familiar fields and parks he determined to find his recovery. He would attend; he would bring about that good to which he had first the pleasure of relating to his…
To Miss Price. His warm heart still named her his only comfort, the only woman to whom his vanity had ever bowed; nevertheless, the rational mind must concede his loss; never more should she be "his Fanny".
Urging his mount past the strictest bounds of safety for sake of expediency, Henry Crawford achieved the end point of his journey scarcely beyond the first sensations of disappointed expectations; sick in spirit and soul, tired of whispers, wanting only solitude and to be doing something.
He approached his home with little ceremony and, having dismounted and walked the remaining quarter mile, handed the rein to his anxious groom as he met him on the gravel drive. Dispensing the direction that he "would need the Bay no more this evening" as he hastened up the stone steps, Henry stopped in the entry only long enough to toss his gloves on the table. His mood growing darker with each step, he ascended the main staircase to the quietude of his apartment.
Scarcely had he entered and his man Smith made enquiry as to whether he had taken his evening meal, to which he replied with a great deal of ill-humor that he "had not and, further, did not intend to be disturbed. Only," and with more self-control he added, "I would have you draw the bath and leave me to myself." Smith, having received more instruction from the Master of the House in these few words than he was used, made his exit to comply with the generosity of Mr. Crawford's wishes.
Henry loosened his cravat as he entered his closet; the blackness of his mood rendered him ill-prepared for any productive activity; he was a man adrift in unwelcome thoughts and painful sensation. He looked restlessly about the small room until he caught at and held his own gaze reflected in his dressing room glass. He was remarkably changed; his countenance revealed the effects of the preceding weeks' intrigue and scandal. Scarcely had the influence of gossip and ill-opinion touched him; having never given a passing notice to the injury he caused to the hearts and characters of those with whom he trifled, the discovery of the ill-effects his most recent indiscretion had upon his character and heart were marked, indeed.
Quickly turning from his reflection, he unfastened the buttons about his neck; his thoughts never straying far from the parting conversation with which Mrs. Rushworth blest him. Oh! to set the clock back; to repent of that fatal moment's decision upon which his mind had scarcely bothered to ponder! He had thought himself safe; his regard for Miss Price was such that a trifle with Mrs. Rushworth – even to see her become Maria Bertram again! – seemed but a petty diversion; a lark to amuse him while he waited for the sweetest of Angels to return his affection!
He lowered himself into the basin and leaned back against the side, closed his eyes and dreamt. Once again, he trod Portsmouth's rampart, Fanny's arm tucked into his. The surrounding sights made no impression upon him; he was wholly devoted to her light eyes and demure smile. Unable to tempt her to look at him, he satisfied himself that she retained his arm on which to lean for the walk; enraptured by the thrill of the contact, however innocent. For that afternoon, that blest Sunday, she was by his side, amiable and delicate, delighting him with her submission to his lead.
The scene he enacted anew in his mind differed not at all; all commenced exactly as it had done that day, save for the adieus upon her father's doorstep. Upon that one point his remembrance differed from the circumstance of that day; for in his mind's retelling, he kissed her tenderly in bittersweet farewell. His desire for but that one kiss from that gentle lady was such that were he offered the choice between the kiss or the taking away of all his most recent sins he really believed himself capable of choosing the kiss.
His most marked defect became increasingly clear to him; a propensity to apprehend immediate gratification at the expense of future fulfillment of all his most sublime desires. He opened his eyes with a start; a fortnight he had been seeking to place the blame on someone – something – other than himself; only too late the truth dawned upon his mind with a swiftness; he, Henry Crawford, brought about the ruination of all his own fondest wishes; wishes he scarce knew he had until the arrow he meant to pierce 'a hole in Fanny's heart' turned back upon his own.
In haste he removed himself from his bath; sopping the floor completely, carelessly pulling his robe about him. Approaching the window, he gazed out upon he knew not what; his mind turned rapidly from one instance to the next, accusing him with each remembrance. His upbringing, upon which he had always reflected with the greatest sanguinity, began to emerge from these reflections as completely deficient. His life had been an unbroken passage of privilege and ease, entirely lacking in the essential restraint which must have kept him from the worst corruption of his principles. He was astonished and really felt he hardly knew himself until that moment.
What can be said for such fresh acquaintance with one's own defects? That Henry Crawford felt shock and remorse one cannot admit of a doubt. That he might, with many vows and oaths, determine to improve his character remained to be determined by time and that quality which a Mr. Crawford may be thought to possess very little, indeed – patience. Though he might never recover his good name, he determined to improve his mind; that must be enough.
In a fever of good intention, he gave much thought to the most impossible of achievements; that might he not, somehow, communicate with Miss Price; and although fully acknowledging he could never gain her hand, nevertheless daring to hope that he might procure her forgiveness. But one name came to his thoughts upon these reflections. He was forever sunk in the good opinion of all the Bertram family and must not think of a Mr. Bertram as compliant in his cause. It must be the dear brother to whom he could turn for some hope in communicating his sincere regrets to Miss Price. He would write to William Price, the one amongst the whole family to whom he had been of real use.
To any purpose which really interested him, Mr. Crawford could attend most readily; being of principal interest to him, his correspondence to William was begun with alacrity and finished apace. This is the substance of the letter,
My Dear Sir,
It has been many weeks since I had the pleasure of introducing you to my uncle, and his report of your progress fills me with deep satisfaction that I was able to be of use to you in your career. I believe you will know me to be sincere when I tell you I thought only of your dear sister and the pleasure your advancement would give her when I devised my plan. I know you will take no offence.
I suspect by this time that you may have heard reports involving me which your good nature may instruct you to dismiss at once. It is with a great deal of pain that I tell you the reports are not entirely false. I have forever broken any friendship that could have existed between my family and the family of Mansfield Park. I do not pretend to you that I can ever hope to heal that breach. But on one point I would dare to seek your aid; if you would undertake to speak to your sister on my behalf. Tell her that I am utterly broken, I will never again pain her with any communication; only ask her, William, if she could find within her generous heart the capacity to forgive me? It would do a vast deal of good to me if I may hear by your correspondence of her pardoning me all my transgressions against her irreproachable self.
She remains 'true North' in my heart; everything that is amiable, lovely and kind I see in her countenance. I never deceived myself enough to believe I deserved her and always cherished the hope that she might take my hand in spite of myself. Of that I haven't the slightest hope now, but will always think of her as the only woman who could have made me happy. I shall always regret her, William. Will you tell her for me?
The letter he dispatched that morning; no time wasted in seeing it in the post. William, having been gone to sea, could not receive the letter as quickly as the sender might hope, but within a se'en'night it landed in his hands. With great perturbation and strong sensations of varying sensibility he read the unfortunate lines. He could not allow for the character of his greatest friend to descend to such shame. Yet here, in his own hand, the sad confession! Poor Fanny; she would never have accepted Mr. Crawford, but how her warm heart and generous nature would admit compassion for his sad state! William doubted not; she would feel it deeply.
As for how William did feel for the man, his first partiality was for the feelings of his sister; her comfort must be uppermost in his thoughts as he attended to the business.
William applied to his captain that he might secure an early dinner in order to reply to the sad letter. A struggle ensued to write sufficient words in which he was able to overcome his reluctance to place blame and still do justice to the truth.
Dear Mr. Crawford,
Very grieved I was to receive the news in your letter; my sister is my own family, and you are the Best of Friends to me. How may I express to you my astonishment at such a situation? Cut off from the affections of a woman, in my sister, who could have supplied all your earthly comforts and supported you with a mind so excellent! I will leave off; you are far more acquainted with the whole terrible business than I can ever hope to be.
To ruin the tranquility in which my sister may find herself in any respite from the subject is my last wish, therefore I cannot promise you to bring it before her. However, if she should open it to me herself, I will do what I am able, within the bounds of discretion, to make your apology and bid her grant her forgiveness. This little must be enough.
I am most heartily sorry for your situation and wish you health and happiness.
Yours, William Price
The concern to write well may be sufficient excuse for the time taken in setting the words on paper; the misdirection of the letter, however, cannot be so easily understood; for instead of it being sent to the intended gentleman, the letter ended in the hand of the lady. An exceedingly happy lady that received it, upon seeing whose hand designed the letter. Fanny secreted the little package to the beloved East room to peruse it with undivided attention. Her confusion was great in the first perusal of it; the letter must be William's own hand – she knew it as well as her own – however, the letter being addressed to that gentleman! How had it come into her possession?
Her understanding cleared upon reading the letter through again; the meaning of the letter became still clearer upon reading it through a third time. Mr. Crawford must have explained himself to her brother, and in doing so, must have sought out an indirect communication with her through William. Oh! the want of propriety so deeply instilled in him! How he could believe that his attempt would stand up to any measure of principle or good character? Yet – he did not attempt any communication with her directly. And who that knew of the benefit his actions had upon William's future could question the fitness of any communication between the two men? It must be allowed for; that he lacked good principles in one area of his character could not admit of his lacking in all good feeling. He must be allowed to have some portion of higher principles.
His predicament, his most unfortunate misstep in what had appeared to be so excellent a path to greater improvement of his mind, could not leave Fanny wholly untouched. She did feel for the sinking of his character and the deprivation of all good society which henceforth must be his portion. She began to be eager to read the content of his letter to her brother. Troubling as the thought must be, Fanny became interested in the sincerity of the request and eager to investigate it on her own.
Fanny wrote directly to her brother; and waited anxiously for the reply from his hand. She inquired after the original letter from Mr. Crawford and asked that she might be allowed to look it over. Receiving the letter did not make up the condition for granting the gentleman's request of forgiveness; she only wished to see the letter and would return it directly or burn it according to William's wishes. William happily gave it over, glad to be out of the business; he did not write letters easily and the whole matter increased his discomfort the more involved he became. Fanny could 'keep it or burn it, as she wished; he would have her do with it whatever gave her greater peace'. She was satisfied on the point.
Soon after it arrived, Fanny became mistress of its contents. With much trembling in her hands did she first open the letter and to read it caused her no little amount of pain; however, once done, she could apply tolerable composure to her reflection upon it. He was sorry; she could plainly discern his sincerity due to his painful brevity in relating the offending situation to a brother who must have a great deal of concern in it. She gave him credit for some sensibility in the manner in which he relayed that part. She was able to honor his restraint in complementing a friend's achievements which were due in no small part to his own credit without seeming to suppress the natural reaction of that party to his own shocking behavior. She blushed at his warm description of her as 'his true North' and 'the only woman who could have made him happy'.
The letter revealed a talent for conveyance of real feeling in a very few words; it did him credit and she must allow him that. To forgive him she was most ready; she never could admit him to her acquaintance again, of course, and she must permit William to convey again the total want of any need for her particular forgiveness. He must know that she was in no way materially injured. She believed that the kindest response.
Henry received the post with speeding heart; the letter in his hand must answer every wish to secure his future happiness. As he read the words contained within – the security of the good wishes of Miss Price conveyed by her brother – his object remained within his grasp, yet. He was not entirely satisfied with the contents of the letter, for they contained a repetition of the oft-quoted assurances by Miss Price that she was as far from his as ever may be! That she never had been inclined towards him and therefore she should not need to grant any forgiveness as she wanted no apology!
This did not answer! Henry folded the letter and placed it within his pocket; his agitation would appear violently evident had anyone the trouble of looking upon him. He moved about the path with little direction or purpose, like a man gone quite senseless. This would not do – he must exert his energy. Henry began again; longing to be near her; to sway her to his perspective and turn her mind regained prominence as his first wish.
Making haste to his groom, he ordered that his Bay be prepared that he might ride out after dinner. He would leave in midday and be to Portsmouth in the evening; there, he would go to her father's house and force her to endure his company. He would put himself repeatedly before her and exhaust his talents in pursuing her admission to some feeling for him!
Post Script: So, okay... This is my attempt at paying homage to one of my favorite authors. As I alluded in my pretentious AN at the beginning, it's very taxing to my brain to write in this style (and likely is a poor shadow of the original even for all the mental cramps it gave me) and I can't promise, but I'll attempt to keep working on it, when I feel especially ambitious ;-)