9 A Woman of Worth

{Note: This story is based on Jane Austen’s novel, Mansfield Park. This scene takes place between the time when Fanny is abandoned on a bench near that fence that is so enticing and answers the questions, what if Fanny did not just sit and wait for Edmund to return and what if Mr. Rushworth showed some displeasure at being left behind.]

Fanny stretched out her legs and tipped her head back to look up at the branches above her.  She had been sitting on this bench with only the birds to keep her company for nearly three-quarter hour.  There had been a brief respite when Mr. Rushworth, Maria, and Mr. Crawford had joined her and again when Julia had sat for the briefest of minutes, but eventually, she had been abandoned by them all.  First, Edmund and Miss Crawford, then Maria and Mr. Crawford after Mr. Rushworth had gone to fetch the key for the gate, and most recently Julia who did not wish to be left behind by her sister for any more of the day than she had already endured.  Fanny sighed and shifted her gaze to that gate — her current object of distress.  She glanced quickly toward the path.  At least the gate gave her reason to forget how Edmund had left her to rest for a few minutes a prodigiously large number of minutes ago.

She rose and walked the few short feet to that gate which stood locked against the entry of nobody but those who preferred to use a key.  The knoll rose in the distance, but strain her eyes as she might, she could not see Maria, Julia, or Mr. Crawford on it.  She stood for a few moments, resting against the gate and looking beyond on the prospect of rolling hills and copses of trees here and there.

She bit her lip and sighed.  It was a beautiful piece of nature and had she her grey mare rather than her weak legs, she might be able to survey it as it begged to her to do.  She shook her head and returned to her place on the bench.  A small scowl touched her lips as she looked down the path.  Mare or no mare, she would be abandoned here by herself, no matter what Miss Crawford said about not monopolizing Fanny’s mount.  Fanny knew how it would be. Miss Crawford would wish for the delight of the ride. Edmund would petition Fanny for the use of the horse for a short period of time.  Fanny would feel obliged to comply, and then here she would sit with only her eyes and imagination to provide her enjoyment of the view beyond the fence.  She would be good Fanny, most kind Fanny, and completely forgotten Fanny as she always seemed to be when Miss Crawford asserted a wish.

She shook herself. It was completely ungrateful of her to be feeling so.  She should be pleased that her cousins and the Crawfords were enjoying the fine weather, but she was not and that feeling increased her current state of distress.

“Miss Price,”  Mr. Rushworth called as he hurried toward her, “are you alone?”  He stopped next to the bench and drew out a handkerchief to dry his brow.  His breathing was pronounced to the effort he had put into returning as quickly as possible.

“I am,” said Fanny.  “Miss Bertram wished me to tell you that they have just gone on ahead and expect you to follow.”

Mr. Rushworth dropped unceremoniously onto the bench.  “Follow them? To where?”

“They went right and were destined for that knoll.”  Fanny pointed to a copse of oaks standing a half mile off.

Mr. Rushworth huffed.  “I have had enough of walking. I know that if I were to attempt to find them, I would not, for by the time I reached where they are supposed to be, they will have moved on once again.”  He shook his head and lapsed into silence.

Fanny cast a worried glance toward him. “Miss Bertram expected you to follow. They have not been gone for too very long.”

Mr. Rushworth nodded and gave her a sad but appreciative smile.  “You are very kind, Miss Price, but I think we both know that my presence is not truly wanted.”

Fanny’s eyes grew wide at the comment.  “I am certain I do not know anything of the sort.”

He gave a short laugh.  “We are not as unaware as they think.  I am not eloquent nor am I particularly at ease in a large group of people.  It makes me ramble and paints me both as a bore and insensible.”  He shrugged.  “You are timid and quiet.  I prattle too much, and you speak too little, and so we are both thought of as dull.”  He gave her another small smile.  “But we are not dull, are we?”

“I should hope we are not.  You most certainly are not dull, sir, but I fear I might be.”

His look was incredulous.  “Surely not!  As far as I have seen, you are everything pleasant, and such pleasantness cannot be thought dull.”  He rose.  “Come.  I have changed my mind.  I am not completely done with walking.  It would be silly to sit here on this bench and never stir from it. We shall take our own tour of whatever you wish.”

“But what if they return, sir?”

“Then they shall find an empty bench and eventually return to the house.”  He held out his hand to her.  “And if they worry that something grave has befallen you, my dear, that would be a most fitting chastisement for their negligence.  How long have you been here?”

“Another fifteen minutes will make it an hour I am sure,” said Fanny.

He flapped his hand in invitation to her. “Then you have done your duty.  I promise to see you well and safely returned to the house. My cook does make a lovely glass of lemonade.”  He smiled encouragingly at her.

Fanny took one last look down the path in the direction in which Edmund and Miss Crawford had gone.  They would likely not miss her until they stumbled upon this bench. The thought stung, but it was doubtlessly true. “Very well, Mr. Rushworth. I will accompany you back to the house.”  She placed her hand in his, and he tucked it in his elbow, drawing her to his side.  “I do find I have been longing for a drink for the last several minutes.”

“Then it shall be my first duty to find you a glass of lemonade.”  He patted her hand as he added, “And nothing will entice me away from that duty.”  There was a hint of bitterness in his voice.

“I did not mind sitting on the bench. The view was quite pleasant. Your grounds are lovely.”

He patted her hand again.  “It was not right for Miss Crawford and Mr. Bertram to leave you so long, nor is it right for Miss Bertram and Crawford to have left me.”

Fanny could not refute his statement without speaking untruthfully.  And so, she and Mr. Rushworth walked on silently for nearly five minutes.

“Those Crawfords are the cause of it, you know,” Mr. Rushworth said at last.  “They with their pretty tongues and knowing ways.”

Again, Fanny could not dispute his claim.

“I will allow that Miss Crawford is temptingly pretty and could cause a sensible man to act thoughtlessly, but her brother? ” He shook his head. “Short and plain and still a temptation.  It is his words, Miss Price. He knows how to please with his words.  Do you find him attractive?”  Mr. Rushworth looked to her expectantly.

Fanny shook her head.  “I do not. He is pleasant but not handsome.”

“And I dare say your discerning mind has found fault with his behaviour.”

Fanny shook her head again. “I cannot say.”

Mr. Rushworth sighed.  “Would that more ladies were of your acumen.”  He gave a sharp nod of his head.  “But enough of that.  Things are not set in stone. Sir Thomas has not yet returned.”

Fanny’s stomach lurched.  “Oh, Mr. Rushworth, I am certain it is not so dire as to think along those lines. It is so easy to think a moment a full five when waiting.”

“My dear, Miss Price, I admire your concern for your cousin, but I will not have a wayward wife.”  He clenched his jaw and looked toward the back of  the house which they were now approaching. “It would be far better for she and I to part ways now rather than after we are married, do you not think?”

Fanny mumbled an agreement.

“As I said before, enough of that. It is unpleasant and unsettling and not at all conducive to an agreeable visit.  I must apologize, Miss Price.  I should not have aired my grievances to you. Here I am condemning those who take advantage of your good nature and find myself doing the same thing.” He shook his head.  “Reprehensible.”

“I was happy to hear it — not the content, of course, but to provide an ear, ” Fanny assured him.  “And you have done just as you promised. I am returned to the house safely.”

He patted her hand.  “You are too kind, Miss Price. Now, allow me to find you a comfortable place to recline and send for some lemonade.”  He led her to a sofa.  “And then, perhaps we could have a game of chess or read a few sonnets, whichever you prefer.”

And it was here, tucked up together on a sofa, taking turns reading sonnets, where the other found them not more than an hour later.

Having been interrupted by the boisterous arrival of so many, Mr. Rushworth excused himself to retrieve a fresh glass of refreshment for Fanny as Edmund with a most puzzled look on his face, took a chair near her.

“You did not wait,” he began.

Fanny looked up from her book. “I wait an hour, Edmund.”

“It could not have been an hour,” he retorted.

“I assure you it was.”  She looked past him to where Miss Crawford was being told all about the lovely knoll and whatever other views Maria had seen.  “You should return to your companions before you are missed.”

Edmund blinked.  “You do not wish my company?”

Fanny sighed and closed her book with her finger holding her place.  “I did, and I suppose I still do, but do not offer what you do not intend to give.  Mr. Rushworth and I are having an enjoyable time.  There is no need for you to leave your entertainment on my account.  I shall be well.”

Edmund’s brows furrowed.  “Are you certain?”

Fanny laughed lightly, trying desperately not to let it sound cold or bitter.  “I have survived quite well these past two and a half hours without you. I think I might withstand a few more.”

Edmund’s expression fell from its normal look of contentment to one of sorrow, and for a moment, Fanny thought to repent of her words.

“Very well,” he said, rising uneasily.

“Edmund,” Fanny called to him as he turned.

“Yes,” his face was hopeful as he looked at her.

“You may wish to speak to Maria.  Mr. Rushworth is rather put out with her.”

A deep furrow formed between Edmund’s brow.  “Why is he put out with her?”

Fanny opened her book as if preparing to read.  “It seems she left him behind to walk with Mr. Crawford.”

Edmund’s brows rose in surprise.

“It is a good reason for censure, is it not?” Fanny asked it softly and attempted to sound only concerned, but from the sadness that entered Edmund’s eyes, she knew she had not been successful in hiding her own pain at being abandoned.

“Fanny, I –”

Fanny shook her head and did little to try to cover her own sadness this time as she spoke.  “Go, Edmund.  Miss Crawford is looking for you.  You must be missed.”

Edmund stood for a moment looking between Fanny and Miss Crawford as if uncertain which way he should go.

“Go,” Fanny whispered.  And he did.

“Your glass of lemonade, Miss Price,” said Mr. Rushworth handing her a glass before taking his seat.  “Did you make your point?”

Fanny sipped her lemonade.  “I believe I did.”

“Very good,” he replied, taking the book from her.  “Now allow me to read to you so that we can put an exclamation to your point and make one of my own.”

Fanny bit her lip.  “Are you positive this is the best way?”

He smiled at her.  “Miss Price, I am a man, and as such, I assure you that being somewhat uncertain of your standing with a lady you have always thought in your sphere of influence is precisely the type of unsettling that will work best.”  He ran his finger down the page.  “He has always had you.  Now, he must fear losing you.”  He lifted his eyes to look at her.  “If he can face that fear and still chose a Crawford, then he was not what you thought or worth your tears.”  He smiled at her.  “If I were a free man, Miss Price, I would not be across the room.  I would still be right here.”

Fanny ducked her head and blushed.  How many times had Mr. Rushworth reiterated over the course of the last hour how much he held her in respect as a woman worthy of being pursued in earnest by a man of good character?  She had attempted to rebuff him, but he had persisted, and soon she had resigned herself to accepting his praise. It was an odd but not unwelcome feeling to be spoken of and to in such a fashion.  Fanny silently expelled a slow breath.  It was time to believe his word instead of belittling herself.  She lifted her head and attended to Mr. Rushworth’s reading.

Comments are closed.