Part I

"I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife."

Fanny placed the long-awaited letter down, tormented by her emotions. "I never will, no, I certainly never will wish for a letter again," was Fanny's secret declaration as she finished this. Not only to learn that her return to Mansfield Park would be delayed, but to hear Edmund's earnest declarations of love for Mary Crawford! There was nothing in that to soothe irritation. She was almost vexed into displeasure and anger against Edmund.

"Why is not it settled?" she fumed. "He is blinded, and nothing will open his eyes; nothing can, after having had truths before him so long in vain. He will marry her, and be poor and miserable. God grant that her influence do not make him cease to be respectable!"

She looked over the letter again. "'So very fond of me!' 'tis nonsense all. She loves nobody but herself and her brother. ... 'The only woman in the world whom he could ever think of as a wife.' I firmly believe it. It is an attachment to govern his whole life. Accepted or refused, his heart is wedded to her for ever. 'The loss 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 did not connect them!"

Such sensations, however, were too near akin to resentment to be long guiding Fanny's soliloquies. She was soon more softened and sorrowful. His warm regard, his kind expressions, his confidential treatment, touched her strongly. Fanny fingered the lovely gold chain around her neck, a gift from Edmund from which hung the cross given to her by her dear brother William. Her face flushed as she recalled the occasion of the gift, when Edmund referred to her as one of his "two dearest objects I have on earth."

But one of two meant that there was another. "Oh! write, write. Finish it at once," she begged Edmund in her thoughts. "Let there be an end of this suspense. Fix, commit, condemn yourself." Condemn yourself? Surely not! Was there not hope in the fact that Edmund had not yet offered for Mary, despite his protestations of love? Were there not as many words of doubt about the match as determination to be found within Edmund's letter?

In that instance, the flicker of hope she felt burst into flame. Edmund had been for these many months bewitched by Mary's beauty and charm, but his sensible mind and good character had enabled him to resist a commitment that Fanny was certain he would regret. If only he would but realize that another, his other dearest, loved him beyond all measure! His very fears about Mary—her worldliness, her unwillingness to accept a simple life as the wife of a country parson—would not exist were he to choose Fanny.

"Oh!" she gasped, placing her hand upon her breast in a vain attempt to still her beating heart. In her many months, nay, years of hopeless love for her cousin, never once had she voiced the desire, even to herself, of becoming his wife. She had doubted her worth, accepted her lower station in life, and feared her uncle's disapprobation too much to entertain the thought.

But much had changed in the last year. With the departure of Maria and Julia to London, Fanny had risen in the esteem of her uncle and aunt Bertram, and as a result, in her own. She had further realized her value here in Portsmouth, as she found many ways to be useful to her family, and as a friend and teacher to her sister Susan. Even Henry Crawford's attentions, unwanted as they were, had taught her that she could attract a man of consequence. Why not Edmund?

Moreover, she had stood up to her uncle in refusing to accept Henry's offer of marriage. She had learned that she could assert her own will and be stronger for it. Yet that was a negative assertion, a desire not to marry a man whose principles and character she doubted. Could she assert herself for that which she hoped and dreamed?

And was it too late? For Edmund was now not only writing that none but Mary would be his wife, but he was persuaded Fanny would soon commit herself to Crawford. He had argued against every protestation she had given him against the match, convinced that Fanny only needed more time to grow to love Mary's brother.

But perhaps…! Fanny looked to the letter again, rereading Edmund's words in a new light. "I cannot give her up. Connected as we already are, and, I hope, are to be, to give up Mary Crawford would be to give up the society of some of those most dear to me; to banish myself from the very houses and friends whom, under any other distress, I should turn to for consolation. The loss of Mary I must consider as comprehending the loss of Crawford and of Fanny."

He feared giving up Mary because he thought it would mean losing Fanny! He was certain Fanny would soon be Mrs. Henry Crawford, and Mary would then be his only attachment to her! Fanny's heart leapt for joy.

A moment later, she began to chide herself. Why was Edmund so convinced she would accept Henry, despite her determined refusals? She had told Edmund every reason the match could never be, and he had dismissed each one. No—that was not true. She had not told Edmund the most important reason she would never marry Henry. Even if all her other objections—Henry's character, his behavior with Maria, the differences in their temperaments—were overcome, this reason would remain.

Why had she not told Edmund when she had the chance? He had asked, he had probed, and she had told him everything save that which was most essential to her heart.

Fanny closed her eyes as she leaned against the rough wood of a pole which lined the Portsmouth pier. She took her cross necklace in hand, an object that combined the gifts of her two dearests on earth, and represented her dearest above. And she prayed for another chance.