AN: This is the companion story to "The Comfort You Might Have Had Sooner," told from Edmund's POV. If you enjoy this story, I would really love some comments!
Edmund Bertram awoke exhausted once more after another restless night. He had not slept well since his return to Thornton Lacey. His spirits were low, for his visit to London had left him with less assurance and weaker hopes about the future he had hoped for with Mary Crawford.
Were her interests now engaged with another, he could better bear it; but he was convinced that Mary had a decided preference for him. Yet his meetings with her in London had shewn him how different they were in tastes and manner, at least when the influences of wealth and fashionable friends surrounded her. Miss Crawford had been in lively spirits, and appeared all too eager to agree with her friends' mercenary ambitions. It reminded him once more than his income as a clergyman was far too small to support her in the manner which she desired.
He was comforted in small part because she had ceased to mock and criticise his profession. Indeed, she had not mentioned it at all during his visits, and he hoped her restraint indicated that she had resigned herself to becoming a clergyman's wife. He felt her hold on his heart more than ever, coupled with his loneliness as a single man, and yet his doubts were such that he continued to hesitate to make an offer for her hand, beginning but being thus far unable to complete a letter containing his proposal.
With his thoughts heavy, Edmund embarked upon his day's tasks, and by midmorning the post had come, bearing a letter from his cousin Fanny. He was eager to read it, for he had poured out his heart about Mary in his last letter to Fanny, who was his most trusted confidante.
Before he could open the letter, however, he was interrupted by his butler. "I beg your pardon, sir," said Bradley, "but a man has come from your father's house on an urgent matter."
Edmund placed Fanny's letter inside the Bible on his desk and asked Bradley to show the man in. He recognized one of the footmen who served at Mansfield Park. "Sir, your father has sent me with pressing news about your brother," the young man said, handing a note to Edmund.
Edmund read his father's scrawled handwriting, indicating distress. Tom, his father had written, had gone from London with a party of young men to Newmarket, where a neglected fall and a good deal of drinking had brought on a fever; and when the party broke up, being unable to move, had been left by himself at the house of one of these young men to the comforts of sickness and solitude, and the attendance only of servants. Instead of being soon well enough to follow his friends, as he had then hoped, his disorder increased considerably, and it was not long before he thought so ill of himself as to be as ready as his physician to have a letter despatched to Mansfield. Upon receiving the news, Edmund's mother became in such as state that his father could not leave her side, and he begged Edmund for his support at this time.
Edmund lowered the note, knowing what he must do. He responded to his father's letter, writing that he would go immediately to attend to Tom and to reassure his mother that all would be well. He wrote a second letter to his curate, informing him that a crisis would take him away for an indefinite time and asking him to attend to the business of the parish in his absence. Finally, he asked Bradley to assist him in packing a trunk.
By early afternoon, Edmund was on his way, and by nightfall he had arrived at the home of the family where Tom was staying. The family, the Lesters, seemed relieved to welcome him, and indicated by their manner that they were eager to have Tom gone. He asked to be shewn to his brother straight away.
The sight of Tom was a shock, for his condition was grave; and it was clear by his appearance and the smell of the room that he had been poorly cared for as one to whom the family owed no allegiance. Edmund asked a servant for the particulars that he would need to help his brother: when the physician had last seen him and what he had reported, and the location of a nearby inn. Fortunately, a respectable inn was not far from the family's home, and within the hour Edmund, after compensating the family for their troubles, had removed his brother from their unwilling hospitality.
The innkeeper was none too eager to have a very ill man in his establishment either, but relented when Edmund offered to double his payment for the room requested. He winced as he made the offer, for he did not know how long they would need to remain, and at this rate he would quickly run through the funds he had been saving for improvements to Thornton Lacey that would make his property a pleasing and elegant home for Mary. Nevertheless, his brother's needs were more important.
Edmund carried Tom to the room, his weight dangerously light and his manner delirious, and after he had thanked and dismissed the Lester family's servants who had accompanied him, he realized that he would not be able to care for Tom alone. He returned downstairs and spoke to the innkeeper, asking if he had a young boy who could help him during his stay.
The innkeeper, now viewing Edmund as a source of generosity, nodded enthusiastically. "Ay, me young son John, sir. 'E's a good lad o' ten years and 'e'll be a fine help to yer."
He called to John and a thin boy with wild mop of brown hair and intelligent eyes soon joined Edmund. The physician was sent for, and while they awaited his arrival, John brought basins of warm water, cloths and towels so that Edmund could remove Tom's clothing and bathe him. Tom moaned and shivered from the cold air and shock of water against his skin, and John quickly ran to the fire to stoke it and increase the room's heat.
When Edmund finished, he gathered the soiled garments and cloths in a large towel and held out the bundle to John, asking him to take it to their washerwoman. John's reluctance to touch the pile was evident, so Edmund reached in his pocket for a few coins. John accepted the coins with alacrity, and laughed when Edmund said that he could burn the bundle if he preferred.
By the time the physician arrived, Edmund had dressed Tom again in some of his own undergarments; fortunately, the brothers were similar in size. "The biggest concern is his fever," the physician said gruffly. "Someone should have continually applied cold cloths to him to try to bring it down, and I am afraid his prior caregivers neglected my instructions."
"I am his brother; I will do whatever he needs," Edmund assured him.
The man nodded. "I am pleased to hear that." He went on to give Edmund instructions for applying poultices to Tom's chest to prevent infection in the lungs, as well as cooling cloths for the fever. "I also fear that he is very dehydrated and weak. He must eat something. Please have the cook at this establishment bring him broth three times a day and try to encourage him to eat."
His attempt to feed his brother, with John helping to hold Tom upright, was a failure, for he vomited the first spoonful and refused to take another. The hour was now quite late; so Edmund dismissed John with much thanks and asked him to return the next morning with breakfast for Edmund and another bowl of broth for Tom.
It was another mostly sleepless night, made nearly unbearable by Tom's delirium. Edmund's fear for his brother's life compounded his already existing fatigue. He desperately wished he were not alone, but who among his family could assist him at this time? His mother, were she there, would move from stupor to hysteria and back again; his father's worry would likely express itself in anger. He sisters, Edmund was sad to admit, were too selfish to concern themselves much with Tom's needs. And although his Aunt Norris might be helpful with the practical aspects of Tom's care, her officious and sometimes cruel manner would depress his spirits.
There was only one among his loved ones that he wished for right now: Fanny. She would be as useful as his aunt, if not more so, in providing for Tom's needs. But more important, her gentle manner, listening ear and compassion would soothe and strengthen Edmund, providing a much needed balm so that he could continue to minister to his brother.
He missed Fanny dreadfully. She had been with her family in Portsmouth these two months past, and it was their longest separation since his years at Oxford. But during those years she had been a child, a sweet and devoted one, yes, but more pupil than friend. She had matured considerably in the last two years and was now a thoughtful and sensible young woman. She had, he realized suddenly, become his equal. He had no one like her, with whom he could share whatever cares pressed his heart, whose judgment he trusted without parallel.
He knew that Crawford had visited her at Portsmouth and continued to press his suit. Crawford had told him that Fanny's manner was warming toward him, and Edmund wondered if he would soon hear word of their engagement. For a moment, he envied Crawford, to have won the heart of one as sweet and gentle and kind as Fanny. If he married her, he would be a lucky man indeed.
His memories of Fanny comforted him, and as Tom's rest became more settled, Edmund finally fell asleep, his cousin on his mind and heart.
To be continued…