Portsmouth

Mrs. Price was staring at her injured carpet, shaking her head as she thought of the number of times she had ordered its repair, when she was handed a letter by the same recalcitrant servant whose deficiencies she had been pondering. She took the letter and Rebecca disappeared before Mrs. Price could scold her again about the carpet. The letter was from her sister, Lady Bertram, who wrote of how much she had been missing Fanny. Mrs. Price was only half attending however, as her eyes strayed continually back to the carpet. Then she reached a passage which contained a familiar but unexpected name. Her sister mentioned Mr. Crawford, the young friend of William's who had called earlier in the day to pay his respects. He was obviously a man of consequence and Mr. Price had been unable to stop talking about this extraordinary visitor and lamenting that he had not been able to stay for dinner since he had left them not long ago. Mrs. Price went back to the beginning of the passage and read as follows:
I believe my niece must be fully recovered by now from the distress created by her refusal of Mr. Crawford's proposals. I would have had her accept him, to be sure, but she would not. Sir Thomas thought she might have been made unwell by the event and that she might improve in the bosom of her own family, but I do miss her so and if you can bear to part with her, I would have her come home.
Mrs. Price read the passage another two or three times then looked up to her husband who was reading his newspaper in the corner. "The gentleman who called today was a friend of William's?"

"So he said," replied Mr. Price, not happy to be distracted from his paper.

"And did he say anything else to you? Anything about Fanny?"

"No. Why should he?"

"According to my sister, Lady Bertram, he wanted to marry her."

Mr. Price finally looked at his wife. Then after a moment, he put down his newspaper altogether. "Mr. Crawford?"

"Yes."

"What do you mean he wanted to marry Fanny? What kind of talk is that? If he wanted to marry her he should have declared himself. Otherwise your sister should not enter into such speculations."

"It seems he did declare himself. Lady Bertram writes that she refused him."

Mr. Price stood up. "Refused him?" He snatched the letter out of his wife's hand and scanned it until he came upon the passage his wife referred to.

"Fanny," he yelled up the stairs. Then looking back at his wife, "Where is she?"

"She is upstairs reading with Susan."

"Miss Price," he called again even louder, "You will come down this moment."

Fanny was already coming down the stairs when he finished speaking. "Yes Father?" she asked in anxious agitation.

"Is is true that you have refused a marriage proposal?" Susan who was on the stair behind her sister gasped.

"Yes sir," Fanny replied quietly.

"And without consulting your own father?"

"Yes sir."

"And who made the application?"

"Mr. Crawford, sir."

"The same Mr. Crawford who called today?"

"Yes sir."

"Do you have any idea what benefit such an alliance could do for this family? I needn't ask his fortune for I can see very well that he is rich. But his connections to the navy alone, of which he informed me himself, would be of the greatest assistance in getting your brothers on. His already having secured William's promotion shows he is well disposed to be of use in that way. What is your excuse, pray, for such a betrayal?"

Fanny was trembling; still standing at the bottom of the staircase, she held onto the post for support. The younger children, Betsey and the boys, had entered the room and were now staring at her. "I could not like him, sir."

"You could not like him?" repeated her father. Then he laughed and looking at his wife he said, "There is a fine education your relations have been putting into the head of my daughter. She could not like him," he repeated again in a mocking voice.

Then Mrs. Price said to Fanny, "I confess I am shocked by this, Fanny. What can you have been thinking?"

"I shall tell you," interposed her husband. "She forgets who she is. She has been living too long in affluence. She thinks she is a Miss Bertram!"

"No sir." She was crying now. Taking a step towards her parents she began, "I beg you to understand ..."

"What do you wish me to understand? That your separation from your family should make you so ill-disposed to do your duty by them?"

She was trembling. Susan came to her side and supported her. "I do not consider it my duty, sir, to marry a man who is immoral and unprincipled. I do not think you would wish it."

"But you did not seek my opinion on the question. Pray, on what grounds do you charge this young man with so heavy an accusation? What immoral or unprincipled acts have you seen him commit?"

Fanny did not know what to say, how could she explain all that had happened in a way her father would understand. "He and his sister had formed a sort of intimacy with my cousins at Mansfield while my uncle was away, and ...."

"Where is the harm in that, pray? Speak child. I grow impatient."

"He had been paying very particular attentions to both of the Miss Bertrams, although the eldest was already engaged."

"And yet she has honored her engagement. Nothing ill has come of his attentions."

"No sir."

"Then his only offense, it seems, was that you were not his first choice."

"No, sir. I do believe, that is, I am convinced he purposely made both of my cousins in love with him."

"You believe? You are convinced? What kind of testimony is this?"

"I watched it all happen, sir. For months he charmed and flattered both of them but instead of acting on the expectations created by his attentions, he fled, only to return once they were gone to trifle with me in the same way."

"Trifle with you? Has he or has he not proposed marriage?"

"He has."

"For your aunt to know of it, he must have made his addresses properly."

"He communicated his wishes to my uncle."

"This is not trifling," he said in an angry tone. "It is you who have trifled with the prospects of all those connected to you. Look around you, Fanny, does this look like Mansfield Park?"

She stared at him unable to remain composed and thought she would fall down but for Susan's support.

"Well, does it?" he bellowed again.

"No sir."

"No it does not. We are not so fortunate as to live the way that Sir Thomas does ... and may God fogive him for it."

She was a little taken aback by this observation but said nothing.

Then with forced calmness, Mr. Price spoke again. "Mr. Crawford's presence in Portsmouth yesterday, his attentiveness to you, gives me hope that all is not lost. Tomorrow when Mr. Crawford returns you will tell him you have changed your mind. You will engage yourself to him and you will marry him from our parish church before you leave Portsmouth."

Fanny was horrified. "No," she cried. "No, certainly I shall not. Never. I never shall."

Her father strode forward closing the distance between them and stood immediately before her. "Do you dare disobey me?"

"I will not marry him," she said again, crying in spasms.

"You will or you shall be turned out of this house tomorrow."

Fanny ran back upstairs crying and Susan ran up behind her.

"What shall I do?" Fanny was repeating to herself, "What shall I do?" She was pacing the tiny room.

"But is he so terrible, Fanny? He seemed a very good sort of man," said Susan.

"I cannot," she replied. "I cannot marry him. Oh I must write to my uncle by express and beg him to send for me. He cannot wish me to stay any longer under my father's command."

"He cannot be here by tomorrow."

"There is nothing else to be done."

"But Fanny, would Mr. Crawford wish to marry you under such circumstances? Against your will?"

"I do not think he would. How could he? How could anyone?"

"I dare say there are some men who could," replied Susan.

"Oh Susan, what shall I do? Do you really think my father will turn me out of the house?"

"I do not know, Fanny, but if he does I shall go with you."

Fanny embraced her sister. "I do not have means of getting myself back to Mansfield, much less the two of us. No, I do not think my father really would send me away. But even so, I suppose if I write to Sir Thomas, I can stay at the Crown until he comes for me on the credit of his good name."

"Perhaps, rather than write to Sir Thomas, you can speak to someone who can offer more immediate assistance. Did not Mr. Crawford offer to take you home to Mansfield?"

"He did but I cannot possibly accept."

"What choice do you have now?"

"Oh Susan, what am I to do?"

Sleep was impossible. The two girls talked into the night. In the morning, Mr. Crawford arrived as expected. Mr. Price urged the rest of his family out of the house saying to his guest, "Miss Price wishes to speak to you privately. I trust you will be in church on time."

Mr. Crawford replied only with a nod of acknowledgment and Mr. Price turned and walked away, followed by his family. Mr. Crawford turned to Fanny, and seeing her looks very poor and her manner agitated, he asked, "What is the matter?" She turned away from him and started crying. After a few moments, Susan entered the house; having allowed the others to outstrip her, they did not know she had turned back.

She put an arm around Fanny, then turning to Mr. Crawford she said, "Sir, Fanny must return to Mansfield as soon as may be."

"I shall be happy to take her, if she will go with me."

Fanny turned back around, still distressed. "I will," she said quietly.

"Then we shall set forth in the morning, or today even, after church, if the urgency warrants traveling on a Sunday."

"Now," said Fanny.

He looked at her earnestly. "I must order my carriage to be brought from the inn."

"We will be ready to go by then," said Susan.

Mr. Crawford left them. Fanny looked at her sister, "We?"

"Do you think I shall be welcome at Mansfield?"

"Yes," cried Fanny embracing her.

They went upstairs and packed up their few belongings. By the time the carriage arrived, they had brought everything downstairs and Susan had written a short note to her parents. Thus, they began their journey.

Fanny cried into her sisters arms and Mr. Crawford sat opposite them in silence until they passed the gates of Portsmouth. Fanny then attempted to collect herself and turning to the gentleman said, "I thank you sir, for this."

"May I ask the reason for your sudden departure from your father's house? He seemed in good spirits this morning."

"Yesterday my mother received a letter from Lady Bertram, apparently disclosing that I had turned down an offer of marriage that my father thought very eligible. He insisted that I ...." Here Fanny began crying again.

Susan continued, "He declared that if my sister would not immediately accept … this marriage proposal he would turn her out."

Mr. Crawford was shocked. "But did he really say so?"

"He did."

The gentleman glanced at Fanny, then looking back at Susan said, "But would he really? You must think he would or you would not be here with me now."

"Yes, I believe he would," replied Susan. "I have seen him angry before."

He then looked at Fanny and said, "All will be well. Tomorrow you will be at Mansfield."

"Thank you," she replied.

FINIS

**************

Longbourn

"I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased."

As Lady Catherine spoke, moving briskly towards her carriage, Mrs. Bennet suddenly issued from the house. And glancing angrily at Elizabeth as she heard the last comments of her Ladyship said, "Lady Catherine, allow me to apologize for whatever Lizzy has said to displease you. I assure you, she is continually giving offense to all of us and I shall have a serious talk with her about it. But I beg you would come inside and take some refreshment and perhaps we can talk it over. I am sure that whatever has occurred to displease you can be resolved more favorably over a cup of tea."

Lady Catherine looked at Mrs. Bennet and said, "I doubt it," but nevertheless moved into the house.

Elizabeth found Jane just inside the doorway and as the two elder women passed down the corridor towards the drawing room, they slipped into the breakfast room. Unbeknownst to the two girls however, Lady Catherine expressed her wish of sitting in a different room and abruptly turned to make her way back to the room occupied by Jane and Elizabeth. Meanwhile, having received a look of curiosity from her sister, Elizabeth said, "Oh Jane, it is the most ridiculous thing! She has traveled all this way only to tell me how displeased she is by the idea of me marrying her nephew!"

Jane looked at her sister in surprise, "But why should she continue to be so distressed? If she was against the match, then she must have been pleased to learn of your refusal."

Jane said the last just as the two older ladies walked into the room. "Refusal?" they both repeated in unison. One elated the other horrified. They looked at one another briefly then looked back at the girls. And in the next moment, all was in confusion.

"Jane," cried Mrs. Bennet, almost falling into the nearest chair. "Jane, my salts. Jane, ring for Hill."

Meanwhile, Lady Catherine said triumphantly to Elizabeth, "So you have refused him! You could have told me as much in the wilderness, I suppose, but it is just as well."

Mrs. Bennet, then said to Elizabeth, "You refused Mr. Darcy? Refused him? Mr. Darcy of ten thousand pounds a year?"

Lady Catherine said, "He is safe. My nephew is safe from making a most abhorrent, shameful, unholy alliance; and he shall marry Anne."

Mrs. Bennet kept repeating herself in the same style while calling for Hill and her other daughters between her hyperventilations. Soon Mary and Kitty were in the room, as well as Mrs. Hill, all attending to Mrs. Bennet's hysterics. "How could you do this to me, Lizzy?" Then she began sobbing, "How could you? How could you think so little of your own family?"

Lady Catherine likewise continued, "That he should have proposed to the likes of you to begin with was an absurd impertinence. He has shown a distasteful streak of rebellion that we -- his uncle and I -- shall get the better of."

Mrs. Bennet was still crying hysterically, "You had the power to save us all and you threw it away, without so much as consulting me. Your own mother!"

"But you," added Lady Catherine, pointing at Elizabeth, "at least you know your place! You know how unfit you are for better society, you know you could never be accepted as one of us."

Mrs. Bennet went on, "He is a detestable man to be sure, but you could have saved us all! Oh what is to become of us?" Her spasms and palpitations continued. Kitty was administering a cloth to her mother's head; Mary was fanning her; Mrs. Hill was arranging her pillows in the chair. Jane had summoned a servant to send for Mr. Jones.

"Well, accepting the invitation to come inside has certainly proven worthwhile," said Lady Catherine, helping herself to a cup of tea. "I will speak to Mr. Darcy when I pass through London on my way back to Rosings. I must be sure that he understands his duty and how foolish, so very foolish, have been his actions."

"You must tell him you have changed your mind, Lizzy," Mrs. Bennet suddenly advised her daughter, becoming more animated as she considered the possibility.

Lady Catherine went on, "We have been fortunate in this case. Very fortunate. But I cannot rely on the likes of the Miss Bennets of the world to know their place."

Mrs. Bennet took up her new idea with enthusiasm. "You must tell Mr. Bennet to write to him in London. Or better yet, write to him yourself. There can be no impropriety if he has already declared himself. You will write to him and you will accept him."

"Surely, having been refused by such a girl has brought him to his senses;” continued Lady Catherine. Then looking at Elizabeth she added, β€œHe must now see how he was drawn in by your arts and allurements and feel all the relief and joy of his escape."

The simultaneous climax of these dual dueling monologues was an expression from each:

"You shall marry Mr. Darcy."

"You shall not marry Mr. Darcy."

Then suddenly the room grew quiet and the two elder women just stared at each other, each finally hearing what the other had been saying. Elizabeth had been looking back and forth from one to the other trying to keep up.

At this juncture, Mr. Bennet entered the room. Looking at Elizabeth he said, "What, may I ask, is going on in here?"

Both matrons again began speaking at once. Mr. Bennet silenced them. "Ladies," said he, "while I have been blessed with the benefit of having two ears, I can nevertheless only hear one person at a time. And, at this moment, I would prefer to hear from a person of sense. Elizabeth?"

"Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine have both only just learned that I refused a proposal of marriage from Mr. Darcy."

"I see," said Mr. Bennet equally surprised by the revelation, but able to maintain his composure, having been prepared for the eventuality by a letter from his infinitely valued cousin, Mr. Collins. "Well that explains it." Then looking at Lady Catherine he said, "I have it on good authority that you would disapprove such a match. Have I been rightly informed?"

"You have, sir. This match to which your daughter, and indeed your entire family, has the presumption to aspire can never – shall never take place. It would be an abomination!"

"I see." Then turning to his wife, Mr. Bennet said, "And, I expect you would wish to promote the match."

"He has ten thousand a year, Mr. Bennet. And think of all the other rich men to whom Mrs. Darcy might introduce her sisters."

"Mrs. Darcy?" bellowed Lady Catherine, "How dare you!"

Confusion again ensued and as it was carrying on, Elizabeth, who had been standing in front of the window, saw a young man ride up to the house on horseback. Recognizing him, she slipped out of the room as Mr. Bennet was again attempting to calm the two ladies.

When Mr. Darcy saw his aunt's carriage in the front sweep of Longbourn he became unsettled in the extreme. When he, in the next moment, saw Elizabeth emerge from the house, he smiled. "Mr. Darcy," she began, without ceremony, "Your aunt is within. She has come here to ... well, to express her displeasure ..."

"I know why she is here. My cousin wrote to advise me that Lady Catherine intended to call on you so I left London early in an attempt to forestall her."

"I wonder how Colonel Fitzwilliam learned of her intent. I suppose she wrote to his father to gain support for her cause," mused Elizabeth.

"No indeed, it was my cousin, Miss De Bourgh, who wrote." Elizabeth looked at him in surprise. "She wrote to my sister that her mother has been furious since learning of a certain rumor and that she was determined to set out for Longbourn to confront you."

They started walking towards the house as Elizabeth replied, "She is within now and ..." she hesitated, "I am sorry Mr. Darcy. I must confess I have breached your confidence. It was not intentional, I assure you."

"What has happened?"

"Both my mother and your aunt have learned of ... of a certain event at Hunsford last April."

He stopped and looked at her. His expression changed as he considered what was likely carrying on inside the house as a result of such a disclosure. "Disaster," he said.

"Disaster," she confirmed.

"Well perhaps we should settle this once and for all before entering the house. You are too generous to trifle with me ...."

A few minutes later Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy entered the house and announced their engagement. Needless to say, the feelings of both ladies underwent a complete reversal and when Mr. Jones finally arrived he was pleased with the opportunity to attend the illustrious Lady Catherine de Bourgh, instead of Mrs. Bennet as he had been expecting.

FINIS