Edmund returned to Thornton Lacey with an unwilling heart and a mind that persisted in returning to thoughts of Mansfield. While the Russells remained his father's guests, Fanny could not be spared to continue her classes at the parsonage, and there was the added evil of the advance of a courtship of which he had no power of preventing. Sir Thomas had always been so well pleased with Mr Lawrence that Edmund had thought it only right to refrain from bringing up his own doubts until he had the wherewithal to testify his case.
Never had duty seemed so irksome, and never had the post seemed so late, as in the week that it took for his letters to bring back replies. Even then, the adage about the fruits of patience being sweet was proven false, for there were no accounts of Mr Philip Lawrence that could provoke censure. He was all that was worthy, honourable and eligible; there was, in short, no objection to be placed to his suit.
And yet, such merits could hardly vouch for the gentleman's being able to make Fanny happy. To him it was but a second attachment, which might never compare to his first, and should that lead to a marital discord in the future, what must become of Fanny? Her sensitive nature would never be able to bear such a situation. Sweet, gentle Fanny - with such a deep capacity to feel as must make her love invaluable, and a disposition so willing to demonstrate any affection by all the means in her power - to be unappreciated, and perhaps neglected! It was intolerable to think of her being subjected to such a fate; there was no creature who was more deserving of all the happiness that life had to offer.
It was at this point in his musings that Edmund began to realise that his concern for Fanny's well-being, far from being the platonic and brotherly interest that he had always believed it to be, arose from sentiments that were much more closer to his heart; for though he could not name one man who might be considered worthy of her, should even a paragon of virtue present himself at that very moment, he would not be able to relinquish Fanny to his care, for he loved her himself.
This was a revelation to eclipse all others. He was exceedingly astonished, not at his feelings - for had he not been long convinced that any man who knew Fanny, who had the abilities to understand her worth, must esteem and adore her? - but that he should have so less understood himself, to have failed to recognize their true nature sooner. Her importance to him - as a friend, as a confidante, as a companion - his preference for her society and conversation above all others, his increasing dependence on her counsel to affirm his judgement - should have informed him that her part in his life was irreplaceable.
His longing to have her at Thornton was now explained. He had missed her so, with their daily interactions so limited - then what might not be his sense of regret if she were lost to him forever? He should be wholly inconsolable. He had imagined that he should not recover when he had been cut off from Mary Crawford, but he could see that that attachment was by far inferior even to the friendship that existed between Fanny and himself. His admiration there had sprung from the liveliness of Mary's spirits and the merry energy in her general conduct; qualities which had held their appeal in being so dissimilar to his own nature, but which would never have answered in the long run.
No affection can thrive for long on a wide difference in beliefs and principles, and must soon give up under the distress of opinions that are forever conflicting. Mary Crawford, with her lofty ambitions and misguided education, with a mind so decided against his chosen profession, would never have brought him happiness. In contrast, how much more worthy would Fanny have been as his wife, through every recommendation of principle, affection, and inclination to do what was right, and whose support must have been invaluable in the advancement of his own ideas and aspirations!
The knowledge of the shallowness of Mary's ideals, so mercenary and superficial, could not help but repel, and had helped weaken her power over him; but Fanny's influence would not wear out so easily. Her claims on his affection were much stronger, the value of her excellent qualities - her kindness, her thoughtful consideration of others, her strict adherence to what was right - too keenly felt to be so easily given up, or forgotten.
It seemed a cruel trick of Providence that the very moment that had taught him that he desired Fanny's regard should also take away any hope of his attaining it, that he should only understand his own feelings now, when it seemed that she had already formed an attachment to Mr Lawrence.
Now he could see that his earlier prejudice against that gentleman had arisen from jealousy, for when seen in a rational light, the match could have no points that were not favourable. Edmund had too much sense to continue the self-deception that had led him to believing ill of Philip Lawrence so resolutely, not when there was so much evidence to the contrary. He could value the other man's merits, and believe his reputation to do him justice, but he could not like him, for he was a rival for Fanny's affections.
What he should do next became a matter of much deliberation. His own inclination was secondary, Fanny's happiness was his principal concern. Should she have fixed her heart unalterably on Philip Lawrence, Edmund could do nothing but hope that the gentleman's affection equalled her own, and pray that her life would be filled with every source of domestic felicity; but if she was yet to make her choice, if there was even the smallest chance of her learning to regard him as he had begun to think of her, then there should be no effort left untried, no time wasted in the pursuit of that prize which would secure everything in the name of joy and contentment for the rest of his life.
A/N : And Cupid is finally here. Phew.
Hildegaarde, LadyRuthless, theredrobin : Thanks for reviewing the last chapter! :) I'm glad it still seems convincing - I live in eternal dread of veering off into a random tangent where they start acting and sounding too painfully OOC. :p
What do all of you think of this chapter? :)