A period of happiness followed Fanny's homecoming from Portsmouth, notwithstanding the events that had precipitated her return. Tom's health continued to improve, Mrs. Norris went away to live with Mrs. Rushworth in a remote cottage, Mrs. Yates was living with her husband in London, the Grants remained at Bath, and Susan was established at Mansfield as a friend and confidante such as Fanny had never had. The only alloy to her contentment was Edmund's removal to Thornton Lacey to begin his career in the church; but Fanny was so pleased by his dedication to his profession and he came to visit so often, that she could hardly repine his absence.
By the end of the summer, the Grants' remaining possessions at the parsonage were packed up and sent to London where Dr. Grant had succeeded to a stall at Westminster. In his absence, Dr. Grant had engaged a curate, Mr. James Maddox, younger brother to the very Mr. Charles Maddox with whose participation in the Mansfield Theatricals they had all been threatened the previous year, to perform the duties of the parish. With the Grants moving to London, Mr. James Maddox took up his abode at Mansfield Parsonage and became wholly responsible for the parish. Knowing the living was destined to fall into the hands of Mr. Edmund Bertram upon the death of Dr. Grant, Mr. James Maddox instituted a school for boys at Mansfield Parsonage in order to augment his income against that eventuality. Sir Thomas viewed this development and the young man's disinterested attentions at the Park with approval. He dined with the family when invited, but having no wife was unable to return the courtesy. His family however, living only a short distance away in the nearby market town of Stoke, visited him often; and by this means his sister, whom Fanny had met at the Mansfield Ball in January, became better acquainted with the young ladies at the Park.
On one such visit Miss Maddox and her mother walked from the Parsonage with Mr. Maddox to call on Lady Bertram and her nieces. It was a pleasant meeting during which Miss Maddox began speaking of the assemblies at Stoke which were to resume at Michaelmas. She fully intended her brother to attend with her and he was only too happy to assure her of his willingness to do so.
“And surely you will attend as well, Miss Price,” said Miss Maddox.
Fanny was uncomfortable. She would have liked to attend the assembly but she knew her aunt would not take her, and there was no one else to accompany her in society. “I do not usually attend balls,” she replied quietly.
“To be sure,” said Miss Maddox philosophically, “after the Mansfield Ball, we did not see you again at any of the public assemblies, but I thought that was because you had left the country.”
“Yes,” said Fanny, “I was in Portsmouth visiting my family for the rest of the winter and part of the spring.”
“But now you are home again,” replied her friend, “and you must wish to go into society.”
Mrs. Maddox, having more penetration than her daughter, and perhaps remembering that it was not Lady Bertram who had chaperoned the Miss Bertrams in society, now entered the conversation. “Miss Price, we would be very happy if you would attend the assembly at Stoke with our family,” she said with unaffected kindness, “if your aunt can spare you for the evening.”
“Oh yes,” said Lady Bertram, “I can spare her very well, now that Susan is here.”
“Well then it is all settled,” said Miss Maddox with a smile.
“I shall have to speak to Sir Thomas about it,” said Lady Bertram.
“Yes, of course,” said Mrs. Maddox. “And I am sure we can contrive some way of getting Miss Price to Maddox Manor the morning of the ball. That should not be an obstacle to her joining us. Only write and let us know if we should send the coach.”
“I shall speak to Sir Thomas about it,” said Lady Bertram again.
There was nothing further to be said on the subject at present, as Sir Thomas was not at hand. They spoke of other things until the Parsonage party departed and the matter was not taken up again until after dinner when the family were sitting together in the drawing room.
“Of course, Fanny should go,” exclaimed Sir Thomas, on being made aware of the offer. “It was very good of Mrs. Maddox to suggest it.” Then turning to his son he asked whether he intended to go to the ball.
Tom looked at Fanny and smiled. “Yes, I believe I shall go. It will be just the thing to start getting into society again after being locked up in this house for so long.”
“But shall you have the strength to dance, Cousin?” asked Fanny with concern.
“Certainly, I shall; perhaps not until the late hours I had been used to, but I believe I shall be able to keep it up until the tea is served, at least.”
“Then Tom can take you to Maddox Manor in the family coach on the day of the ball without further inconveniencing Mrs. Maddox,” said Sir Thomas. “And either he or I will fetch you home the next morning.” Turning to Lady Bertram he said, “Perhaps you would be so good as to write to Mrs. Maddox and propose this plan.”
“Certainly,” replied Lady Bertram. “Fanny will write for me in the morning after breakfast.”
The business was therefore satisfactorily concluded and Fanny spent the next few days contemplating the ball with eager anticipation. During that time, Edmund rode to Mansfield to spend the day with his family. He heartily approved the scheme of Fanny's going to the assembly with the Maddoxes. His brother then insisted Edmund should ride to Mansfield the morning of the assembly and accompany them. This would provide Tom with a companion in the intervening hours between leaving Fanny at Maddox Manor, where she was invited to dine, and the start of the ball. Edmund hesitated before accepting. Fanny could easily see that his spirits were still affected by all that had happened in the spring.
When they were alone and had an opportunity to speak more openly, he acknowledged that he was still very much afflicted.
“I fear,” said Fanny, in response, “that the solitude at Thornton Lacey is not healthy for you.”'
“No indeed,” he replied, “I confess solitude is just what I need at this time. I am not fit company for anyone.” Then turning to her he added, “Save you, my dear Fanny, who has been the dearest of all my sisters.” Fanny had no words to reply to this painful observation, but she felt a little better a moment later when he added, “But you are not so much my sister to prevent us dancing together; indeed, you must dance with me at the Stoke Assembly.”
“Certainly, I shall be very happy to.”
The day of the ball at last arrived. The only alteration to Sir Thomas' plan had been an invitation to Mr. James Maddox to go in the coach with the party from the Park, which was graciously accepted. Edmund came to Mansfield Park in the morning and the four left for Stoke before Lady Bertram retired to dress for dinner. When they arrived at Maddox Manor, the gentlemen exchanged Fanny's company for that of Mr. Charles Maddox, and the four young men left Maddox Manor to amuse themselves as they could until the ball. Fanny, for her part, was as quiet and unobtrusive a guest as she could be. Mrs. Maddox continued to be a thoughtful and obliging hostess, determined to put her guest at ease, and her husband proved to be of the same generous and cheerful spirits as his wife. He amused himself by teasing his daughter about her prospects for the evening; and Miss Maddox, for her part, continued to behave towards Fanny with the same friendly good-nature that had marked their previous meetings. After dinner, Miss Maddox played and sang, much to Fanny's delight. All in all, the evening was spent very satisfactorily to Fanny and they were off to the ball before she had any chance to grow impatient.
On their arrival at the assembly, Mrs. Maddox dutifully introduced Fanny to Mrs. Oliver as well as her daughter and her two sons. The eldest Mr. Oliver requested the first pair of dances with Fanny and she was pleased to get a partner so easily. And without the added anxiety of being expected to lead the opening dance that had so distressed her at the only other ball she had ever been to, she was able to enjoy the dances with unalloyed pleasure. By tea time, she had danced with her cousin Tom, both Maddoxes, and both Olivers, and she still had her dances with Edmund to look forward to. At tea, she sat with her party and Mr. James Maddox remained with them. They were soon joined by an acquaintance of his, a Captain Walsh of the Navy who was staying with his brother in Northampton. Mr. James Maddox introduced his friend to the rest of the party explaining that they had met through Captain Walsh's brother Mr. Robert Walsh who had attended Oxford with Mr. James Maddox.
“And so I understand you are an uncle,” said Mr. James Maddox after the introductions were made.
“Yes, I am come to Northampton to meet my nephew. Have you seen him?”
“No, I have not had a chance to ride into Northampton since receiving Walsh's letter announcing his arrival. But I hope to do so very soon. And I trust Mrs. Walsh remains in good health?”
“Yes, she is doing very well.”
“And pray, who does the child resemble your brother or your sister?”
Captain Walsh laughed, “He resembles every other child I have seen of similar age!”
“I hope you did not say so to Mrs. Walsh.”
“No indeed, I was able to assure her very truthfully that I have never seen a more handsome baby boy, and she was quite satisfied.”
Miss Maddox laughed at this and her mother pretended to look offended.
Mr. Maddox then asked, “And how long are you on leave?”
“I have not yet had my orders, but another fortnight at least.”
Suddenly, Miss Maddox said, “Miss Price, do not you have a brother at sea? I seem to recall meeting your brother at the Mansfield Ball.”
“Yes indeed,” replied Fanny. Then turning to Captain Walsh she added, “He is second lieutenant on the Thrush.”
“Ah, the Thrush,” replied the Captain, “Then he is in the Mediterranean at present, I believe.”
“Yes, at least he was when he last wrote to me, but that was several weeks ago.”
Noticing that the tea things were being cleared away, Captain Walsh asked Fanny for the next pair of dances, which she happily accepted. They continued talking of the Navy during the dance, and she was such an eager and attentive listener and he such a clever and animated talker, and both of them took such a genuine and enthusiastic interest in the subject matter, that the conversation could result in nothing less than mutual satisfaction.
When the two dances concluded, Captain Walsh returned to the Maddox party with Fanny and remained next to her, continuing to talk to her of his exploits in the Navy to which Fanny was very happy to listen. After a while, he thought to ask her more about her brother and her family. Fanny experienced a little discomfort now at having to explain her situation. He made no other response, however, than to talk of his own recollections of Portsmouth when he learned her family lived there, as he had been there many times. Before they knew it, another set of dances was ending. They had been talking for over half an hour. At this point Mrs. Maddox joined them. The young man took the hint and went to ask another young lady to dance.
When he had left them, Mrs. Maddox said, “I hope you are enjoying the ball, Miss Price.”
“Yes,” replied Fanny. “It has been a lovely evening. I thank you for inviting me to attend with your family.”
“We are happy for your company.” After a pause, Mrs. Maddox added, “I trust Captain Walsh was a pleasant dance partner.”
“Oh yes, he spoke so much of the Navy and brought to mind my brother William.”
"He is a pleasing young man from a good family and has done pretty well for himself."
"I am glad to hear of any young man doing well in the Navy. It is such a very noble profession and so important to our country at this time."
"Indeed," replied Mrs. Maddox as they were approached by Mr. Charles Maddox and another young man who he introduced to Fanny as Mr. Pearson. He requested the next two dances and when they were over, Fanny returned to her party to find that Mrs. Maddox had ordered the carriage. Fanny looked around and saw both her cousins lining up for the next dance. She quickly took leave of them and followed Mrs. Maddox out the door. It was not until she was in the carriage with Miss Maddox exclaiming about all the events of the evening that Fanny realized she had not danced with Edmund.
Upon their return to Maddox Manor, the whole party stayed up to go over the events of the evening and listen to Mr. Maddox's teasing about his daughter's partners. The next morning at breakfast, the family continued the conversation about the ball in the same lighthearted manner. Miss Maddox seemed contented with her partners and Mr. Maddox's wit flowed long when he learned that his daughter had danced twice with Mr. Pearson, which Fanny had not even noticed. Everyone was pleased to have seen Captain Walsh again. Mr. James Maddox mentioned his intent of going to visit his friend Mr. Robert Walsh in Northampton soon. As he had been intending the scheme for so long, without actually carrying it out, his family had little to add on the subject.
Not long after breakfast, Fanny was surprised to see both Tom and Edmund arrive to take her and Mr. James Maddox home. She learned they had stayed the night at The Crown in Stoke. The ball and the events surrounding it gave Fanny something to think about and to talk to Susan about in the ensuing days. Susan was pleased to hear about all of her sister's partners, but her knowledge of and familiarity with the Navy, made Captain Walsh an object of particular interest. More than anything, she was pleased to see that her sister had enjoyed the evening.
About a fortnight after the ball, the Maddox ladies again called at Mansfield Parsonage and Miss Maddox walked to the Park, leaving her mother and brother on some business at the Parsonage. She and Fanny took a turn in the shrubbery together, and Miss Maddox mentioned that both Captain Walsh and his brother Mr. Robert Walsh had come down from Northampton with Mr. Pearson to dine at Maddox Manor a few days before. Fanny knew Mr. James Maddox had ridden to Stoke to dine at Maddox Manor, which was such a common occurrence as not to raise any curiosity at Mansfield, but that Captain Walsh had been one of the party she had been unaware.
Now Miss Maddox smiled and said, "Captain Walsh asked very particularly after you."
Fanny did not know what to say. "I am sure Captain Walsh has the good breeding to inquire after any lady he so recently danced with."
"At the risk of diminishing your opinion of his good breeding, I am not sorry to confess that he did not ask about any other young lady to whom he was introduced at the ball through his connection with our family."
"But he knew I attended with your party. That must be the reason for the distinction."
"You are very modest, Miss Price, but I heard him inquire and I suspect his motive exceeds that of common civility. Therefore, you must attend the next assembly with us to find out."
"I will be happy to attend the next assembly for no other reason than the pleasure of your company and that of your family."
Miss Maddox laughed and talked of other things. When they returned to the drawing room however, they found Mrs. Maddox and Mr. James Maddox sitting with Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. They were discussing Mr. James Maddox's plan to visit his friend Walsh in Northampton for which a date had finally been settled on. Miss Maddox was animated by the prospect of the visit and wanted to join her brother, who finally agreed to take her.
On her next visit to Mansfield Park, Miss Maddox was able to tell Fanny everything about the day she had spent in Northampton. Mr. Pearson had called at the Walsh home while they were there and Miss Maddox had walked out with him on an errand for Mrs. Walsh. She spoke much about this walk and Fanny began to form an idea of how things stood between the two of them. Miss Maddox had also seen Captain Walsh, who had apparently again asked about Miss Price and promised to attend the next assembly at Stoke. Miss Maddox smiled and gave Fanny a knowing glance. Before the Maddoxes left Mansfield, arrangements were made for Fanny to attend the next assembly with the family.
A few days later, Tom took Fanny with him to call on Edmund at Thornton Lacey. She was pleased for the opportunity to visit him and to see his new home. When they arrived, however, she was a little disconcerted to again be greeted by Edmund as a sister. As they toured the house and grounds, the two brothers spoke of all Edmund had done with the place and of further improvements to be made. Fanny said little, only offering her opinion when it was requested. Afterwards the three shared a light meal and Tom mentioned the upcoming assembly ball, urging his brother to attend. Edmund seemed hesitant, but finally agreed. Due to Tom's presence, Fanny had no opportunity to speak to Edmund privately, but she did not regret it. She was happy that he seemed well-settled and content with his home.
The day of the next assembly, Fanny was much more comfortable. She was beginning to feel at ease with the Maddox family. She looked forward to the ball, and soon discovered that her anticipation was excited more by her expectation of seeing Captain Walsh again, than any other pleasure the evening might afford. She saw him soon after entering the ballroom and when she did, his eyes were already upon her. He smiled when he caught hers and walked towards her. “Miss Price, it is a pleasure to see you again. I hope you are not yet engaged for the first two dances?”
“No sir,” replied Fanny.
“Then may I request the honour of your hand?”
Fanny accepted with her usual grace and modesty and they remained together talking with her party until the music started. During this interim, Edmund joined them and asked Fanny for the first dances, she told him she was engaged and he requested the two second. She found that she was a little disappointed to lose the hope of conversing with Captain Walsh following her dances with him as they had done at the last assembly.
The dance however, afforded some conversation with Captain Walsh, and it was just as pleasant as it had been previously. He asked her more particular questions about her family such as in what part of Portsmouth they lived and whether she had any other brothers at sea. Fanny learned that in addition to the brother with whom he was currently residing, Captain Walsh had an older brother who owned a small estate in Somersetshire and two sisters, one of whom was married to the gentleman who had the living on his brother's estate and another who was yet unmarried and lived with their mother in Bath. She learned all of this and far more about Captain Walsh, preferring to speak of his family rather than her own. At the end of their dances she was a little disappointed to part with him, but she was happy for the opportunity to dance with Edmund who spoke his approval of Captain Walsh, and then sat with her for a little while after their dances, which was a comfort. But she was soon solicited again by another gentleman.
She did not have an opportunity to speak to Captain Walsh again until tea time, when he joined their party along with his friend, Mr. Pearson. The conversation among their little party was lively and Fanny perceived enough to confirm her suspicion of there being a mutual attraction between Mr. Pearson and Miss Maddox. Following the rest and sustenance afforded by stopping for tea, Fanny was able to dance two more sets after which Mrs. Maddox was ready to depart. Once in the coach, Fanny reflected on how pleasant the evening had been. Captain Walsh necessarily made some part of their conversation and Fanny was happy to talk about him until Miss Maddox suggested, more with her tone and her smile than with her words, that she suspected him of a partiality for Fanny. She undoubtedly thought her friend would be gratified by such a hint, but rather Fanny experienced a little embarrassment which made her uncomfortable; Mrs. Maddox, perceiving it, had the good breeding to put an end to the subject by introducing another.
The next morning after breakfast the doorbell announced an arrival at Maddox Manor whilst the ladies sat together in the drawing room discussing the inexhaustible topic of the previous evening – the young men of the house having not been seen in the course of the morning. Fanny, assuming the caller must be one of her cousins come to fetch her, was beginning to make herself ready to depart when Captain Walsh and Mr. Pearson entered the room. They sat with the ladies some little time, canvassing the events of the ball. During the course of the conversation, Captain Walsh disclosed that he was going to London in a few days to see his admiral and get his orders. He hoped he would have time to return to Northampton before he was required to sail. "I should very much like to attend the next assembly here in Stoke," he said, "but does your family never attend balls in Northampton, Mrs. Maddox?"
"I should not mind it, but I am afraid Northampton is at too great a distance for a party of ladies to travel just for a ball." He acknowledged her response with a bow but said nothing. She continued by asking, "I imagine you have attended the assemblies in Northampton; how did you like them?"
"I went to one shortly after my arrival but I confess I enjoy your balls here at Stoke much better."
Mrs. Maddox only smiled at this civility and shortly after the exchange, the Mr. Bertrams arrived with the Mr. Maddoxes and Fanny finally departed for home with her cousins and Mr. James Maddox.
During the next several days Captain Walsh was much in Fanny's thoughts. He had not entirely supplanted Edmund, but she could not help noticing that she often wondered whether he would be able to return to Northamptonshire after his visit to London. She avoided talking about him too much to her family as she did not wish to betray how much he occupied her mind In this endeavor she was assisted by a letter from Miss Maddox announcing her engagement to Mr. Pearson. The Bertram family's recent intimacy with the Maddox family made this news a welcome novelty at Mansfield which must be talked of – and allowed Fanny to avoid the subject of Captain Walsh altogether. When they were alone, however, Susan asked more questions that gently approached the subject of Captain Walsh but took care not to make any indelicate hints. In this way, she drew Fanny into a conversation about the young man and was able to perceive that her sister seemed to admire him. She was satisfied and did not press the subject further.
Fanny now received constant news from Miss Maddox of the preparations for her wedding. One of these letters brought the expected invitation to the next assembly at Stoke. After discussing it with Sir Thomas, Lady Bertram, and Tom, who again agreed to drive her, Fanny was able to write her acceptance.
When Edmund next visited Mansfield, however, and Tom mentioned the upcoming assembly, he was unable to agree to join them as he had been invited to dine with the principal family in the village of Thornton Lacey on the day the ball was to take place. Fanny and Tom were both disappointed by the news but accepted it with a good grace.
A few days before the next assembly at Stoke, Fanny received a letter from Miss Maddox which, after conveying some of the usual news of the family, contained the following:
Captain Walsh has returned from London. He came to Maddox Manor yesterday with Mr. Pearson and stayed to dine. We all walked out together and he again asked particularly after you. When we had a moment to converse alone, he told me something rather surprising. He has met an acquaintance of yours in London who apparently spoke very highly of you, but he would not give the name of this mysterious person. I did not believe you had any acquaintance in London except for the Grants, so I said it must be them, but Captain Walsh would disclose nothing further. He only smiled and told me that he looked forward to seeing you at the ball next week. I too am looking forward to it, with perhaps more interest than before. I hope he will tell you more than he has disclosed to me. Yours etc., Sofia Maddox.
Fanny's surprise at having been the subject of such a conversation, not only in Stoke, but in London, can be well imagined. She began to list her acquaintance in London, which was of necessity a brief undertaking. Certainly it could be the Grants, but Fanny thought it more likely to have been Mrs. Yates, who Miss Maddox had perhaps forgotten. Given that her brother's residence at Mansfield was a direct result of the Grants having gone to London, it was reasonable for her to think of them first. Fanny also had a brother in London, but as she had not seen him in close to nine years and they were so little acquainted, she knew it could not be him.
Fanny could think of little else until the day of the assembly. Tom drove her and Mr. James Maddox into Stoke, where they were all to dine together at Maddox Manor. When they arrived, Fanny learned that Mr. Pearson and Captain Walsh were to join them for dinner as well and accompany their party to the ball. Before these two gentlemen arrived, Miss Maddox contrived to speak to Fanny alone and again mentioned what Captain Walsh had said of having heard her spoken of in London. In response to the same speculations that had been raised in Miss Maddox's letter, Fanny agreed to the possibility that the Grants might have been the source of his information but also suggested that it might have been her cousin, Mrs. Yates.
"Yes," replied Miss Maddox. "I had not thought of Mrs. Yates. I suppose it could have been her as well, but I cannot imagine how she might have been introduced to Captain Walsh."
"No," said Fanny, "nor can I, but she is the only other person who I know of in London that might have mentioned me."
"I suppose we shall have to wait until dinner to find out," said her companion, "but are you not terribly curious?"
"I am a little curious, I confess. It seems very odd indeed that Captain Walsh should have heard anything of me in London even from anyone of my acquaintance there."
"I do not think it so very odd. London is a big place but everyone knows everyone; it should not surprise me at all to find out that he has been in company with either Mrs. Yates or the Grants."
"Well it is of little use to speculate on the subject," said Fanny. "Now tell me, what are you to wear to the ball this evening?"
Miss Maddox let the subject drop and allowed the conversation to take a different course. She felt sure all would be revealed during the course of the evening.
The gentlemen arrived to dine with the family and Captain Walsh chose a seat next to Fanny. He began the conversation by asking her how she and her family had been since their last meeting. After answering she inquired as to his trip to London. He only smiled and said that his business had concluded satisfactorily. "I am to sail from Southampton next week. I have been given command of the Albion."
Fanny congratulated him and asked, “And are you pleased with your orders?
“Certainly,” he replied. “I believe I shall be afforded opportunities enough for success and advancement.” She acknowledged this with a smile, and he continued, “While in London I had the pleasure of speaking of you, and of hearing you praised in the highest terms.”
Fanny blushed a little and did not know what to say but finally replied, “I have so few acquaintance in London, I cannot imagine which of them you might have had occasion to meet.”
“I was introduced to a young gentleman who claimed an acquaintance with your family.” Fanny's thoughts flew to her family in Portsmouth, wondering who it might be. “A Mr. Crawford ….” He would have continued, but her expression changed so suddenly and so completely when he said the name that he stopped speaking and looked at her with concern, for she looked very uncomfortable. After a moment, he said, “Forgive me, I have said something to distress you.”
“No, no,” was all she was able to mutter in response.
After another moment of watching her attempt to recover her composure, he perhaps thought she would have greater success if he was not looking at her, and chose instead to enter the conversation of the rest of the table. After a few minutes however, he ventured a glance in her direction, and seeing her more fully recovered, managed a smile that was returned. This he considered sufficient encouragement to resume speaking to her. He made no further mention of his visit to London, but he did manage to solicit her for the first two dances at the evening's assembly ball.
By the time they arrived at the ball, Fanny had got over the distress from dinner and was looking forward to her dances with Captain Walsh. They stood together waiting for the dancing to begin, and when they had drifted far enough away from the others for relative privacy, he said, “At the risk of distressing you again, I wish to apologize for my earlier blunder and to tell you that Mr. Bertram has since been kind enough to give me some idea of that gentleman's history with your family.”
Fanny, more able to maintain her composure now than she had been at dinner, replied, “I had no idea you were acquainted with that family, but it is not to be wondered at, you did say you were going to meet your admiral.”
“Yes, Admiral Baldwin invited me to dine and both Admiral and Mr. Crawford were among his guests. After dinner, while in conversation with the nephew, when he understood where I had been staying, he inquired whether I was acquainted with the Mansfield family. When I mentioned you, he claimed a former acquaintance with both yourself and your brother. I thought you would be pleased and gratified to hear yourself spoken of so highly, but after seeing your discomfort when I merely spoke the name, I will not trouble you further by repeating what was said.”
“I did have a brief acquaintance with the gentleman while his sister was residing at Mansfield Parsonage with Mrs. Grant, but it has been many months since … well, they have all gone away and now we have the pleasure of Mr. James Maddox's society instead.”
Captain Walsh smiled and changed the subject saying, “I shall be very sorry to leave Northamptonshire, I have spent my time here very happily.”
“You must be pleased to have spent so many weeks with your brother and his family, and to see your little nephew.”
“Yes, he is quite charming already! I do hope to return very soon,” he added quietly. Fanny made no reply. “And when I do, I suppose Miss Maddox will be settled at Northampton as Mrs. Pearson.”
“Yes, I believe they will be very happy together.”
“They do seem very attached to one another.”
Finally, the dancing commenced and Fanny enjoyed her two dances with Captain Walsh. They talked comfortably for a few minutes after the dances as well, and he asked her to dance a second time after tea. The ladies returned to Maddox Manor soon after and she saw Captain Walsh only briefly the following morning to take leave, before returning home with Tom and Mr. James Maddox.
Fanny continued to attend the assemblies at Stoke, and was grateful for the opportunity to do so until Miss Maddox's wedding, when she expected the invitations would cease; but she no longer saw Captain Walsh. Tom always went with her, but Edmund had not been able to attend again as his engagements at Thornton Lacey were increasing.
Miss Maddox was to be married in February and when Fanny attended the January assembly ball, she received another unexpected invitation. “You know that I will be going to Northampton with Mr. Pearson directly after the wedding,” said Miss Maddox.
“Yes, I believe you told me as much in your last letter.”
“And I regret that we shall miss the last assembly of the season.”
“But we have been to all the others. Your family has been so generous to include me and I am very pleased that you will be so happily settled.”
“I have been very happy to have your company, and I have no wish to relinquish it. I hope you will come to stay with me in Northampton for a few weeks after I am married. You know Mr. Pearson has his work to keep him busy by day and I should like to have your companionship, if you can be tempted to quit Mansfield for a little while.”
Fanny was surprised by her friend's application and could barely make a response beyond expressing her sincere gratitude. Miss Maddox only smiled and said, “I do not expect an immediate answer. I know you will wish to discuss it with Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas. But I hope you will accept as it will make the change so much easier for me.”
Fanny agreed to talk to her aunt and uncle about it, and as little more could be said on the subject until she had done so, it was not mentioned between them again that evening. Fanny enjoyed the ball, as she had always done and was satisfied with her partners, but she had found less enjoyment in the assemblies since Captain Walsh had left the country. The next morning, before she departed Maddox Manor with Tom, Miss Maddox reminded her of the invitation and pressed her to accept.
When Fanny returned home, she told her aunt and Susan of Miss Maddox's invitation. Lady Bertram could not be expected to form an opinion on the subject until Sir Thomas had an opportunity of telling her what it should be. However, Susan was of one mind on the subject and when her ladyship retired to dress for dinner, the two girls removed to the East Room to discuss the invitation.
Once they were alone, Susan began by observing, “What delightful news! I am so pleased that you have found a friend so well worth having and that you will finally have the opportunity for a little enjoyment away from Mansfield.”
“It was very kind of Miss Maddox to invite me. I am a little surprised she would choose me as a companion after her marriage. I suppose it is owing to her nearest sister being still too young for such an office.”
“My dear sister, do not think so little of your own claims. Miss Maddox values you as a friend, and with good reason. Do not underestimate your own worth.”
Fanny smiled. “Do you really think I should go?”
“You must go. You have never been afforded such a pleasure, and it will only be for a few weeks. I am sure my uncle will give his permission.”
“But how can I leave you?”
“Very well, I am sure. You shall have no scruple on my account. My aunt is perfectly accustomed to me now; we have been getting along perfectly well whenever you have been absent. That is not to say we do not miss you. But we shall be very happy to read of all your pleasures in your letters.”
Fanny smiled again and the sisters embraced before separating to dress for dinner. After dinner, Sir Thomas was made acquainted with the invitation and readily advised his wife to allow Fanny to accept it. Both sisters were very pleased with this conclusion of the business. In truth, Fanny was so scrupulous about leaving her aunt and her sister, it could almost be said that Susan was happier on Fanny's behalf than Fanny was for herself. Nevertheless, Fanny wrote her acceptance to Miss Maddox and all the appropriate arrangements were made to have her conveyed to Maddox Manor for her friend's wedding.
The nuptials were duly performed, and afterwards Fanny almost inexplicably found herself in Mr. Pearson's carriage with his new bride on the way to Northampton. Mr. Pearson had a small, pleasant house and Fanny was happy to give her companionship and her assistance to Mrs. Pearson as she assumed the duties of her new home. There were calls from neighbors to greet the new bride and errands in the town to occupy them as the weeks flew by. Fanny was able to observe her friend happily settled with a husband who respected and admired her. She felt herself valued as a friend and companion to Mrs. Pearson. And, of course, she met Mr. and Mrs. Walsh and their little son and was soon hearing of Captain Walsh almost daily. Every letter they received from him was read aloud and discussed between the two households. And Fanny wrote to her aunt and sister at Mansfield every week to entertain them as well as she could with all she had been doing and seeing in Northampton.
Fanny had resolved that at the end of six weeks she would speak to Mrs. Pearson of her returning to Mansfield. She would not wish to inconvenience her friends in the arrangement of her travel, but she also felt she might overstay her welcome if she remained longer. She had only been in Northampton a little over four weeks, however, when she received a letter from William after having heard nothing from him in some months. The contents were as follows:
My Dearest Fanny,
I am at Gibraltar and have just received a packet of letters from you which I have been reading with great pleasure. I am very pleased that you have had the opportunity to enjoy the assembly balls at Stoke this year as well as the hospitality of the Maddoxes, and that Susan is so well settled at Mansfield that you are able to comfortably go into society without inconveniencing Lady Bertram. I am afraid I am not acquainted with Captain Walsh, but I am inclined to think him a very good sort of man based solely on what you relate of him in your letters. I am pleased, moreover, to learn of your having been invited to Northampton and I hope you are enjoying your stay. I have learned that I am to return to England for new orders. My captain has long been wishing to get a relation of his onto the Thrush and I shall be displaced. I do not regret it; I am only uncertain where I shall be assigned next. I have hope however, of at least a fortnight's leave once I arrive home. I therefore expect to be able to travel into Northhamptonshire. I shall write again with more definite information once I reach England. Until then, I shall think of you enjoying yourself in the company of good friends at Northampton.
This letter, of course, convinced Fanny that she must return to Mansfield much sooner than she had previously contemplated, so that she would be there for every moment of William's visit. However, when she mentioned the letter to Mrs. Pearson, her friend urged her to remain and wait until she received William's next letter, assuring her that she could be conveyed home with an hour's notice. Mrs. Pearson pointed to William's closing sentiment and suggested that he would not wish Fanny to return home so early. Thus, Fanny agreed to remain until she heard again from William.
Fanny waited patiently for the promised letter from William, and after about a week of walking eagerly to the post office every morning and every afternoon – all the while calculating how long it might take to travel from Gibraltar to England – she began to feel impatient, and she began to despair. Perhaps his return had been delayed or his orders had changed. After about a week, although no letter had come, Fanny's spirits were improved by a different form of novelty: Mrs. and Miss Walsh had arrived from Bath to stay with their relations for a few weeks. Fanny made their acquaintance on a morning visit to Mrs. Robert Walsh with Mrs. Pearson.
Once they were all seated, Mrs. Robert Walsh was explaining her surprise at the arrival of her mother and sister-in-law from Bath after having received word only the previous evening.
“Well,” said Mrs. Walsh, affectionately caressing her grandson, “we decided to come to Northampton on a bit of a whim after receiving Sam's letter. We had no pressing engagements to keep us in Bath and the weather has been so fair!”
Fanny, of course, knew that Sam was Captain Walsh's given name and she became curious as to what he had written that would make his mother and sister come to Northampton – whether it meant he might be coming as well. She did not have long to wonder however, as Mrs. Robert Walsh immediately said, “He will be very happy to see you when he arrives on Friday.”
This was a surprise, Fanny had no idea Captain Walsh was expected. She immediately felt all the disappointment of having to leave Northampton so soon on account of William's impending visit to Mansfield. She would have liked to continue her acquaintance with the captain, but seeing William was far more important. The next morning, however, she finally received the much awaited letter from William. It contained the following:
I have just arrived at Deal. I sailed from Gibraltar aboard the Albion, whose captain I believe you know. We are both due at London tomorrow, where we will receive our new orders. Captain Walsh then plans to travel into Northamptonshire to visit his family. I will travel with him and meet you there; then we may go on to Mansfield together. I have written to Sir Thomas to expect us on Monday. I will learn tomorrow how many days' leave I shall have, but I do not think it will be fewer than ten. I look forward to seeing you on Friday.
This news was as welcome to Fanny as it was surprising! Friday could not come soon enough, and Fanny was in high spirits anticipating the arrival of both gentlemen. On Friday morning, Mrs. Robert Walsh invited both Fanny and Mrs. Pearson to await the gentlemen at the Walsh home, along with her mother and sister-in-law. Their arrival was a busy affair, with so many anxious women to meet them; but as most of the women were Captain Walsh's relations, Fanny had the pleasure of having William almost all to herself. Captain Walsh was, of course, expected to stay with his brother, but with his mother and sister also in the house, Mrs. Robert Walsh could not offer William a room. He was prepared to go to a hotel, but Mrs. Pearson would not hear of it and insisted that he stay at the Pearson home. This arrangement was agreeable to everyone.
Fanny soon learned that William had a fortnight's leave and afterwards he was to join Captain Walsh's crew on the Albion. They had met at Gibraltar and as William needed to return to England, Captain Walsh had offered to take him. From Deal, they had traveled to London together, where Captain Walsh had requested that Lt. Price be transferred to his ship to fill the vacancy left by his own first officer who had lately been disabled from active service due to an injury. This was the completion of Fanny's surprise! To know that her brother and Captain Walsh would be together was such pleasing news she hardly knew how to express her joy on the occasion. Although the demands on the captain's attentions were substantial, with so many of his female relations in the room, he nevertheless found a few moments to tell Fanny how delighted he was to see her again, how pleased he was with the acquaintance of her brother, and his even greater joy at welcoming him as part of his crew. These communications could do no less than add to her flutterings of delight.
Mr. Walsh and Mr. Pearson soon joined them and the Pearson party remained to dine with the Walshes. When the ladies retired to the drawing room after dinner, Fanny had an opportunity to become better acquainted with Mrs. and Miss Walsh. She found the mother to be a fashionable and pleasant, though somewhat silly, woman. Her daughter was a cheerful, pretty girl of about Fanny's age, who seemed to have the same good sense as her brothers; she had an open, self-assured, and spirited disposition which reminded Fanny a little of Susan. Fanny was happy to be pleased with both women, and probably unable to acknowledge to herself how predisposed she had been to like them.
When the gentlemen joined them, the entire party settled into a comfortable conversation and soon the two sailors began telling of their exploits. This Fanny could have listened to forever, and Captain Walsh's adventures were by no means less interesting to her than those of her brother. At the end of the evening she practically floated back to the Pearson house on William's arm, for she had also learned during the course of the evening that Captain Walsh would be returning to Mansfield with them for a short visit. He was to stay only a few days and then return to Northampton to spend the remainder of his leave with his family. William had written to Sir Thomas on the subject from London. This was welcome news to Fanny, but she may not have noticed that Captain Walsh observed her countenance light up when she heard it.
The next few days were marked by the same pleasant intercourse between the two households. Fanny had the joy of William's constant company as well as that of getting to know Captain Walsh and his family better. She was not insensible of the captain's attentions to her, of his often engaging her in conversation, always choosing a seat next to her at dinner, and seeking her company on any occasion in which he could reasonably do so without any indelicate display of partiality. And he spoke so highly of William and the prospect of the two of them being on the same ship as could only increase her pleasure in his company.
Everyone, of course, noticed and even Fanny's modesty could not long lead her to deny that Captain Walsh was very taken with her. Aside from one or two very moderate hints by Mrs. Pearson, however, no one said anything to Fanny about it. Whether they discussed the subject in her absence, she could not know. But being the object of this kind of admiration was a new experience for her. She could not help but compare it to the only other time a man had shown her any attention and this was very different. She had much on which to reflect: not only Captain Walsh's possible feelings, but her own. She liked him very much. She always had. And now, to think that he admired her, gave her more pleasure than she could have imagined. And she had no reason to doubt his sincerity, no reason to believe he was trifling with her; he had ever been a gentleman in his behavior to herself and others. She did not even notice how little she had been thinking of Edmund since coming to Northampton.
On Monday morning, Fanny was very happy to travel to Mansfield with the company of Captain Walsh and William. Mr. James Maddox was invited to dine at Mansfield Park and Edmund even rode in from Thornton Lacey. William and his new captain were, of course, the principal speakers after dinner, but Fanny had much to hear from Edmund as well. He had become intimate with some of the families in Thornton Lacey, especially a Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, a family of substantial means and the principal family in the village. Fanny also learned that their niece, Miss Morton, had come up from London to stay with them about six months before, following the death of her mother. When he had a few minutes to speak to Fanny quietly, Edmund mentioned her again.
“I have long hoped you could meet Miss Morton,” said Edmund, “I have often thought her to be very much like you. She has such an eye for natural beauty. She painted a very pretty little landscape of the church at Thornton Lacey that I think you would approve.”
“She paints well, then?” asked Fanny, unsure what to say.
“Yes, she has an excellent eye for the picturesque.”
Is she musical?”
“She plays the pianoforte quite well, but I think painting is her passion.” After a pause, he added, “I am relieved, at least, that she does not play the harp.”
This hint gave Fanny a little start and she instantly comprehended what everyone already suspected: Edmund admired Miss Morton. This was not so painful a realization as it might have once been, and upon looking around the room immediately following it, Fanny could not help but blush as she caught Captain Walsh's eye.
It was settled during the course of the evening that Tom, Mr. James Maddox, Captain Walsh, William, Fanny and Susan would drive out to Thornton Lacey the following day to accompany Edmund on his journey home and see the place. Lady Bertram resisted and required Sir Thomas's steadfast exhortation to convince her to agree to the plan, more by his assurance that he would remain home than by his opinion that Susan ought sometimes to have opportunities for amusement as well as the others. Tom drove Mr. Maddox and the ladies in his carriage and the other gentlemen went on horseback. When they arrived at Thornton Lacey, they went over the house and the nearby gardens and then surveyed as much of the surrounding countryside as they could reach on foot. Edmund's housekeeper, having only received a note that very morning that he was to have a small party of friends at the Parsonage for the day, nevertheless very capably provided them with food and drink. Tom suggested the entire party take a walk through the village afterwards, before returning to Mansfield.
As they walked along the main village road, two women emerged from one of the shops ahead of them. Edmund immediately introduced them to the entire party as Mrs. Robinson and her niece, Miss Morton, who turned to address Fanny saying, “I am so pleased to finally make your acquaintance, Miss Price. Your cousin Mr. Ber--,” she glanced at Tom and continued, “Mr. Edmund Bertram, has spoken so highly of you.”
“I am pleased to meet you as well, Miss Morton. I hear that you are an accomplished painter. I should very much like to see your work.”
Miss Morton smiled, “I will be happy to show you one or two of my paintings. My aunt is so good to display them in her home.”
“They are very good paintings,” said Edmund, “quite worthy of display, I assure you.”
“I am very much inspired by the beauties of nature,” said Miss Morton. “An appreciation I share with you, I am told.”
“Yes,” said Fanny, “I often find myself rhapsodizing over the freshness of a verdant meadow in the spring or an evergreen tree in the winter. There is so much to admire and enjoy in all the varieties of nature.”
“And that is what I hope to capture in my paintings. I have no taste for painting people or houses.”
“But you painted the church building beautifully,” said Edmund.
“Because it is situated so prettily between gentle slopes surrounded by meadows of wildflowers dotted with little bursts of trees,” replied the lady. “And I was lucky to capture it in all its beauty at the end of the summer. A few more weeks and it would have been a much less colorful scene. Perhaps I will paint the same scene again in the spring, to capture the early verdure of the same meadows and trees.”
“I am sure it will be just as lovely,” replied Edmund gallantly.
The party all continued together in the direction of the Robinson home. Tom graciously offered his arm to Mrs. Robinson, Edmund walked with Miss Morton and Captain Walsh fell in behind them with Fanny, while Susan walked with her brother and Mr. Maddox.
“I have learned to share your enthusiasm for natural beauty, Miss Price,” said Captain Walsh. “I spend so much time at sea that I rejoice in every pasture and meadow I have the good fortune to behold.”
“But the sea has its beauties as well,” said Fanny quickly. “Gently rolling blue waves can be as lovely as gently rolling green hills.”
“Unfortunately, the waves do not always remain as gentle as the hills. I cannot deny that there are beauties at sea, but sometimes a quiet country cottage seems very appealing.”
Fanny could say nothing in reply and they soon arrived at the Robinson home. Everyone was invited in and the entire party properly admired the painting of the church as well as two or three others that were hanging in the drawing room. After about a quarter-hour, however, they departed and soon the Mansfield Party were on their way home. In the carriage, Tom spoke rather openly of his expectations regarding Edmund and Miss Morton.
“I had met her once or twice in London,” he said, “she is the daughter of the late Lord Morton and has a fortune of thirty thousand pounds. I do not think her father would have approved of her marrying a second son, but her brother, the present Lord Morton, does not seem to much care who she marries as long as she makes a respectable match.”
“I suppose it was her love of nature that made her leave London and move into the country to stay with her aunt and uncle.”
“From what I understand she grew tired of being courted for her fortune. I had heard old Mrs. Ferrars was trying to get her for either one of her sons, but they both married elsewhere.”
Fanny's mind was on Edmund during the remainder of the journey home as Tom continued to tell all he knew of the history of the Ferrars and Morton families. It could never occur to Fanny that any woman might be out of Edmund's reach and the disparity in their fortunes was nothing to her mind. She could see that Edmund admired Miss Morton and for all she had been able to observe, Miss Morton seemed to return his regard. She at least seemed to have no objections to his profession or his preference for a country life. Whether living so long in London had corrupted her morals, Fanny could not say on so short an acquaintance, but that she had voluntarily left it was certainly in her favor.
They returned to Mansfield in time for dinner and spent a pleasant, quiet evening with only the prospect of losing Captain Walsh's company to give Fanny any cause for dissatisfaction. On Wednesday morning, Captain Walsh returned to Northampton to spend the remaining days of his leave with his own family. William stayed until Monday and then returned to Northampton to travel back to Deal and the Albion with Captain Walsh.
When they were both gone, Fanny truly felt their loss; she had never been happier to have Susan at Mansfield than during those first few days after William's departure. While the two sisters were walking in the shrubbery shortly after their brother left them Susan asked, “How did you like Captain Walsh's sister?”
Fanny blushed a little and said, “I liked her very well, though I had but little opportunity to form an opinion.”
“William spoke very highly of her.”
“Yes, he seemed very well pleased with everyone we met in Northampton.”
“But did you notice any evidence of an attachment on his part?”
The idea that William might admire Miss Walsh had never occurred to Fanny. “I do not think so. I never noticed any partiality for her on his side.”
“I imagine you were always distracted by other members of the party, perhaps one gentleman in particular,” replied Susan with a smile. Fanny only smiled and blushed. Susan continued, “William says Captain Walsh was pleased to meet him when he learned of his connection to you and that he praised you in the highest terms.”
“Susan you mustn't,” said Fanny, “he has been very attentive to me. But he is such an amiable man and spends so much of his time away at sea, I have no expectation of anything.”
“No, of course you do not. We women never have any expectation until we are expected to!” Fanny smiled at this. Susan continued, “William says Captain Walsh has made a great fortune in prize money already.”
“Then I am sure he will expect to marry a lady of some means.”
“Perhaps he intends to marry a lady of far superior virtue and merit than one often finds among the rich.”
“I do not presume to know what he intends.”
Susan judged it best to make no further comment on the subject and reverted to William and a discussion of where he might be sent next. He wrote to his sisters before he sailed from Deal and it was a long time before they heard from him again, and still longer before they saw him again. Those intervening months were, however, not uneventful. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson and their niece came to dine at Mansfield Park and then invited the entire Mansfield party to dine at their home in Thornton Lacey. Lady Bertram did exert herself to be driven to Thornton Lacey and back at the insistence of her husband. This duty having been performed, her son felt authorized to propose marriage to Miss Morton and by the end of the summer, Edmund was married. And although Fanny's feelings towards him had been gradually changing, it was nonetheless a difficult blow for her. She was able to be happy for him however, and she could not help but reflect that he seemed to have chosen much better in his second attachment than his first.
In August, Fanny and Susan finally received word from William. He had written only a handful of times since being with them in the spring, and his letters had always mentioned Captain Walsh with friendship and respect. Fanny and Susan read the letter together in the East Room, and learned that William would be in Portsmouth by Michaelmas and expected to be granted an extended leave. Captain Walsh had invited William to accompany him to Bath to visit his mother and sister and then the two would go to Northampton where Captain Walsh would remain with his family and William would come to Mansfield. William wrote, “The captain suggested that perhaps we would be in Northamptonshire long enough to attend one or two of the assemblies at Stoke, as he did last year. This would be a great pleasure and I dare to hope for the opportunity of seeing both my sisters dance.”
“Oh no,” said Susan, on reading this part of the letter, “I must remain with my aunt. But I see no reason you should not go.”
Fanny thought Susan still a little young to attend a public assembly and therefore did not contradict her sister on the point of her attending. Instead she spoke about herself, saying, “Of course I shall not be able to go, I have no reason to expect Mrs. Maddox to invite me now that her daughter is married.”
“But if Mrs. Pearson should come down from Northampton to attend.”
“Perhaps, she may,” said Fanny, “but I think it unlikely. She can have no reason to wish to attend the assemblies at Stoke now and if she was inclined to go to a ball, surely she would prefer those in Northampton.”
“I wonder if Mrs. Bertram would accompany you,” said Susan.
Even if Fanny could summon any inclination to go into society with Mrs. Bertram, she could never make such a request. “Thornton Lacey is so far away,” she replied, “and she never went to the assemblies last year when she was single, I cannot imagine she would wish to go now.”
“I fear Captain Walsh will be disappointed if you do not attend.”
Fanny smiled and taking Susan's hand said, “Captain Walsh knows where I am. If he wishes to see me, he will not be prevented by my being unable to attend a ball.”
Susan returned her sister's smile and squeezed her hand, but made no response.
The girls were eager to share their news with the rest of the family, but William's was not the only letter received at Mansfield that day. Before the sisters had any opportunity of sharing the contents of William's letter, Lady Bertram was animated by a letter from Mrs. Yates who announced her intent of coming to Mansfield at Michaelmas for a few weeks. Mr. Yates, it seemed, was fond of shooting and eager to better know his father-in-law. Susan only smiled and looked at Fanny when she heard the news, as if to communicate her assurance that she would indeed be able to attend the assemblies at Stoke.
William wrote from Portsmouth that both he and Captain Walsh would have a three months' leave as the Albion required extensive repairs in port. Moreover, their First Lieutenant (who had been promoted due to his predecessor's injury and who William had replaced as Second Lieutenant) had been made Commander and was being reassigned. William would be promoted to First Lieutenant! Fanny and Susan rejoiced together over this news and received the hearty congratulations of all their family.
Shortly after receiving this news, the Yateses arrived at Mansfield. They were a welcome addition to the family party and brought Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Bertram to Mansfield even more often than had previously been their wont. And, although Fanny would not dare mention the assemblies at Stoke to her cousin, Susan had no such scruple and before long, Julia had offered to take Fanny. Meanwhile, William wrote from Bath and both Susan and Fanny were struck by how much of his letter was taken up by the subject of Miss Walsh, whom he seemed very happy to have met again. He now wrote to them every week, with news of his exploits in Bath – of the pump room, and bathing houses, and taking the waters – which he thought tasted foul and could not imagine having any healing properties at all – of the upper rooms and lower rooms and concert halls. And Miss Walsh, it seemed, was there for it all. After attending the upper rooms for the first time, William wrote that “Captain Walsh found little enjoyment in the evening and declared a decided preference for a country assembly.”
Fanny read his letters with pleasure and thought it unlikely he would be at Mansfield to accompany her to the first assembly at Stoke, but certainly they could attend the second together, if Mrs. Yates remained at Mansfield. On the day appointed for the assembly, as Fanny predicted, William had not yet arrived; nor had his last letter contained any indication of when he would travel to Mansfield. After dinner, Fanny set out with both Mr. and Mrs. Yates and Mr. Bertram, to attend the assembly. There was already a large crowd when they entered the room and Fanny had scarcely had a moment to look about her after shedding her cloak when she heard someone say her name from behind her. She turned to see Captain Walsh smiling at her. She returned his greeting and granted his request for the first pair of dances that immediately followed. “I had not thought you and my brother would be here. His last letter gave no indication of any intent to travel into Northamptonshire so soon.”
“I was rather weary of Bath,” he said with a smile. “I did not find the society there as pleasant as it is here. Price wished to stay longer but as soon as my mother gave permission for me to bring my sister to come stay with Mr. and Mrs. Walsh in Northampton, he was quite ready to depart Bath.” He nodded in their direction, and Fanny saw William standing with Miss Walsh and Mrs. Robert Walsh, talking to Mrs. Yates.
Fanny rushed forward to greet her brother and learned he was to return with her to Mansfield that evening. “I hope my uncle does not mind,” he said. “When he last wrote, he gave me leave to come to Mansfield whenever convenient.”
“Oh I am sure everyone will be happy to see you,” replied Fanny. “He knew you were to come soon; your arriving a few days earlier than expected can be of no consequence.”
The dancing started soon thereafter and Fanny allowed herself to enjoy the companionship and attentions of Captain Walsh. When their dances were over, he remained near her in conversation for the entirety of the next pair of dances, and although Mrs. Yates was not as scrupulous on this point as Mrs. Maddox had been, Fanny was forced to separate from him at last when she was solicited by another partner. He secured her, however, for the dances immediately after tea and by that means they had plenty of opportunity for further conversation. He spoke of his adventures, both at sea and in Bath, and especially spoke highly of William – even crediting him with having saved his life on at least one occasion – and he spoke of having met her family in Portsmouth. But on this occasion, he seemed less satisfied to be the principal speaker and encouraged her to talk more than she had ever done; but she had little to tell except the news of Edmund's wedding, which had already reached him through William.
At the end of the evening, William returned to Mansfield with his cousins and once again Fanny had the pleasure of his constant company. He did talk often of Miss Walsh and when alone with his sisters, he confessed that he admired her. He felt she returned his regard but was not sure if it would be prudent for her to accept him. “She has four thousand pounds,” he said. “But that together with what I have made in prize money is still insufficient. It will be a few more years before I am able to marry – if I continue to have the same good luck at sea as I have had up to now – and I do not know if she will wait. Would it be fair to propose now and ask her to wait or should I simply hope that she will remain single until I can provide for her?”
Fanny replied, “A few years is a long time to wait to marry but if you do not declare yourself now, she may be in doubt of your intentions ...”
“... and marry someone else!” finished William. “This is my fear.”
Susan, ever practical, added, “But a lot can happen in those years. What if you become engaged to her and then change your mind and wish for a release.”
William only smiled and shook his head, “Impossible!” he said.
His sisters could not help but smile at his devotion. This inexhaustible topic continued to dominate their conversations when they were alone, but her brother and sister also mentioned Captain Walsh from time to time, though neither would go so far as to make any indelicate suggestion of his intent. William had seen enough to be quite certain of his friend's feelings, but Captain Walsh had not taken him into his confidence and he would not raise his sister's expectations without affirmation from the gentleman of his intent.
About a week after the ball, Fanny and William received an invitation to dine at Maddox Manor as the Walshes and the Pearsons would be coming from Northampton for the evening. Mrs. Yates seemed a little disappointed to have been excluded from the invitation but she very rationally considered that she had been gone from the country for a long time and was very little acquainted with the Maddoxes.
Once again, Captain Walsh chose a seat next to Fanny at dinner and spoke to her much of the evening. He again seemed to wish to hear her speak rather than to speak himself and she obliged him as much as her natural reserve would allow. He seemed different than he had been in the past. She was convinced he was as happy to see her as he had ever been, but he was more pensive now, almost to distraction.
Fanny and William attended the next assembly at Stoke again with the Yateses and Mr. Bertram (who was obliged to go on horseback). Captain Walsh again asked Fanny for the first dances and spent much of the evening in conversation with her. They sat together again at tea during which the captain and William were speaking of their voyage from Gibraltar to Deal.
“And when we arrived at Deal,” said Captain Walsh, “and they brought the mail aboard, I remember the large packet Lt. Price received in comparison to my own – mostly from his sister, of course.”
“I am very fortunate,” said William, “Fanny and Susan are both excellent correspondents. Fanny, especially, has been writing to me faithfully since I first sailed more than ten years ago.”
“I cannot disagree with my friend,” said Captain Walsh, looking at Fanny, “he is most fortunate to be the object of such a loving and attentive woman.”
Fanny blushed furiously, but only replied “What sister could do less?”
Captain Walsh glanced at his own sister and then leaning forward said, in a mock whisper, “My own sister never turns the page of a letter unless the price of muslin changes in Bath! Then, she is full of information – most of it conveying how ill-used she is by the milliner or the dress-maker, and sometimes both.”
Miss Walsh looked like she was about to defend herself, but before she could speak, William said, “This will not stand! You read a portion of her last letter to me and I can attest to its being of greater import than the price of muslin!”
“Indeed, she did write of a play she attended but said nothing of the performance at all, and could only speak of the gossip she overheard in the next box.”
Miss Walsh started laughing. “Who could attend to the performance with Mr. Thorpe bellowing in the next box? The man is insufferable! If you happen to have any secrets you do not want repeated to half of Bath and exaggerated to the other half, do not let Mr. Thorpe find out about them!”
“You see, Miss Price,” said Captain Walsh, “she does not even deny writing short letters full of gossip and finery. What am I to do?”
Miss Walsh said, “Do not trouble yourself to answer him, Miss Price, for he knows very well that the way to get longer letters is to marry; for a wife more often than not, has much more to complain about than a sister.”
“Do you think then,” said William, addressing Miss Walsh, “that wives have nothing to do but complain?”
“I think it depends greatly on who their husbands are,” she replied.
Captain Walsh shook his head, “When I have a wife, I do not intend for her to have very much occasion for writing, and even less for complaining.”
Fanny only smiled and blushed, but made no reply; and she could not regret the change of conversation that followed. They returned to the ballroom and she danced again with Captain Walsh. Afterwards, he remained with her and as the music for the next dance started, he turned away from a group of chairs where one or two girls were sitting without partners and said earnestly in a low voice, “I hope I will be forgiven for not dancing any more this evening, but I have already danced twice with the only young lady with whom I wish to stand up.” Fanny's heart fluttered when he said this. All she could do was blush and turn away from him. He only smiled and offered her a chair. They spoke for the rest of the evening and when Fanny rose to follow Mrs. Yates out of the room, he took her hand and said, “I hope to see you again very soon.”
In the carriage on the way home, William was all smiles. Fanny wondered if he had spoken to Miss Walsh but she knew he would say nothing in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Yates. Lady Bertram had gone to bed before they arrived home, but Susan was waiting in the East Room and both Fanny and William entered it to tell her everything about the evening.
“Our brother,” said Fanny as they sat down, “has been smiling since we left Stoke. I suspect he has some news for us.”
“I do have news,” he replied. “Before I left the ball, Captain Walsh mentioned to me that he intends to ride from Northampton tomorrow morning to call at Mansfield.” Susan smiled and looked at Fanny. William too, looked at Fanny earnestly and added, “I do not know for certain that he means anything by it but I have my suspicions, and I did not think you would wish me to discourage him.”
“No, indeed,” said Fanny, then blushing again, she thought she had answered too quickly.
The three remained in conversation about the events of the evening until William could perceive that both his sisters were tired and, observing the late hour, suggested they get to bed. They took his advice, but Fanny could not soon fall asleep after his disclosure of what the morning was to bring.
The next morning after breakfast, the ladies were sitting in the drawing room and the gentlemen were out shooting, when Captain Walsh arrived. After sitting with them about half an hour, and seeming more uncomfortable than usual, he said, “I have a message for Mr. James Maddox from Mrs. Pearson. I suppose I should walk to the parsonage to deliver it. Perhaps, Miss Price, if you have not had your walk this morning, you might be so kind as to accompany me?”
Fanny caught her breath and looked up at him, but before she could answer Mrs. Yates said, “That is an excellent idea, Captain Walsh. I declare I have been sitting still for far too long and the weather is so fair, I should very much enjoy a walk.”
Susan turned towards her cousin with a look of incredulity. The thought of going with them, to occupy Julia so that Captain Walsh could speak alone to Fanny, occurred to her, but that was of course out of the question. She had been at Mansfield Park long enough to know perfectly well that Lady Bertram would certainly not survive being alone in the drawing room for half an hour! She was powerless and must leave her sister to the capricious whims of fate.
After the two ladies fetched their things, they left the house with Captain Walsh and walked towards the Parsonage with little conversation other than Julia remarking now and then on their surroundings or the weather.
When they arrived at the Parsonage, they were directed into the shrubbery, where Mr. James Maddox was overseeing the play of two or three of the little boys in his care. Julia, suddenly fascinated with the children, joined their game and Mr. Maddox entered into conversation with her. Fanny and Captain Walsh were able to walk a little away from them and talk quietly together, but he was apparently disinclined to speak of anything of greater import than the weather and the growth of Mr. Maddox's apricot trees.
When the party from the Park were ready to return, Mr. Maddox offered to join them, leaving the children in the care of one of his elder students. On setting forth from the house, he immediately attached himself to Mrs. Yates, allowing Captain Walsh to walk with Fanny, but Julia suddenly said, “Captain Walsh, did not you have a message for Mr. Maddox from his sister?”
“Ah, yes, thank you Mrs. Yates; I nearly forgot. It is but a note she sent with me,” he replied, pulling a piece of folded paper out of his coat pocket and handing it to Mr. Maddox, who immediately read it and put it away in his own pocket.
Mr. Maddox then devoted himself to Mrs. Yates by beginning a conversation about the boys at his school and asking her advice on several related topics. She had much to say on the subject and walked on at the quick pace set by her companion. Captain Walsh followed slowly, with Fanny at his side, and made yet another remark about the fine weather. Fanny agreed with him and said, “You must have had a pleasant ride from Northampton.”
“I did.” Then after a moment's thought he added, “I wonder you did not take advantage of the open weather yourself. I remember you telling me that you enjoy riding.”
“Yes,” she replied, “I had thought of it after breakfast, but Mr. Wilcox, the coachman who always accompanies me, has been suffering from rheumatism.”
“But I am sure Price would accompany you,” he said almost indignantly.
“Yes, of course, but all the gentlemen had gone shooting before I ever had a chance of mentioning it. Perhaps tomorrow, if the weather holds.”
He seemed satisfied and looking about him saw the Mansfield stables within view. He nodded in their direction and said, “Perhaps you can introduce me to your mare.”
“She is not my horse,” said Fanny. “She belongs to Edmund – that is, he bought her for me to ride.”
“That was very generous of him.”
“Yes, he has always been very good to me; like a brother, in the absence of my own.”
Her companion smiled and they turned their steps towards the stable even as they watched Mrs. Yates and Mr. Maddox enter the house. Three or four grooms were in the stable yard exercising Sir Thomas' carriage horses. Fanny and Captain Walsh walked past them and into the stable. First they stopped to check on the post horse the captain had rode to Mansfield, then they walked to Edmund's mare. Captain Walsh patted the animal and said, “She seems well suited to carry a lady, strong but gentle.”
“She is a lovely horse,” Fanny agreed.
After spending a few minutes with the mare, they exited the stable through the doors on the opposite side from the stable yard. But instead of turning towards the house, Captain Walsh walked forward, away from the stable, seemingly without direction. When he had gone far enough to be sure they were quite alone, he turned to Fanny and said, “I had a particular reason for coming to Mansfield today.” She looked a little surprised, but said nothing. “I had imagined you must know my purpose.” She still made no reply. He took her hand, and she finally looked up at him. He smiled, “Miss Price, ever since I met you, in all my travels, I have never ceased to think of you; nor have I seen a woman who is your equal. The simple truth is that I love you. I can offer you a modest home, nothing like Mansfield of course, but one sufficient to keep you in comfort. I wish to retire from active service. I have made enough money to be respectable and, more than anything, I have no wish to be parted from you again.” He paused. She was smiling back at him, her eyes brimming with tears of joy. “Marry me,” he whispered.
“Yes,” she said without hesitation. His countenance lit up as he brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. “But you needn't retire from the navy on my account,” she said seriously.
“I had thought of bringing you aboard ship with me – some of the other captains have their wives on board – but I do not think you are well suited to life aboard ship.”
“I would be happy to try it, if you wish.”
He drew her closer to him and said, “Perhaps we shall.”
Then, as if just recollecting her own situation, she said, “You know I have no fortune. Nothing.”
“You have everything I could wish for,” he said quietly.
They returned to the house and joined the others in the drawing room, where Julia immediately wondered where they had been. Susan could perceive from their looks what had occurred on their way back from the Parsonage, and Mr. Maddox probably suspected it as well. Fanny would have preferred a half hour's reflection in her own room to settle her emotions, but she would not abandon Captain Walsh at such a moment.
At length, Mr. Maddox left them to return home and shortly after, the gentlemen of the house returned from shooting. Sir Thomas spent but a few moments with them and then retired to his study. After telling the ladies of the various successes of the day, Tom likewise left them to go speak to the game keeper. Mr. Walsh mentioned that he should depart for Northampton and William offered to accompany him into the stable, but neither moved to leave the room. At last, the event they had all been awaiting occurred: Lady Bertram stood to retire to dress for dinner; her daughter immediately followed and as soon as the door closed behind them, Captain Walsh looked at Fanny and smiled. William looked from one to the other and said, “Well?”
“It is true,” said Captain Walsh at last, “your sister has agreed to make me the happiest of men.”
William and Susan both offered their hearty congratulations and the four spoke quietly about the event for several minutes before Captain Walsh addressed Fanny soberly, saying, “What shall I do? Shall I speak to Sir Thomas today? Or, shall I write to your father first?”
Fanny looked at William who said, “By all means speak to Sir Thomas first. I see no reason why it cannot be done today, unless you or Fanny prefer to wait.”
“I agree,” replied Fanny. “It cannot be done too soon.”
“Then,” continued William, “you may speak to my uncle today and write to my father when you return to Northampton. I do not think either Mr. Price or Sir Thomas could have any objection.”
Captain Walsh looked back at Fanny. “If you are in agreement with this, I shall act accordingly.”
“I will go with you to speak to Sir Thomas, if you wish,” said William.
Captain Walsh nodded and the two men rose and left the room.
Fanny, now alone with Susan, was soon in her sister's embrace. She was shaking and could no longer hold back the tears. “I am so pleased for you, Fanny,” said Susan. “Truly, you deserve every happiness. And he is a good man.”
The girls sat together talking quietly until William and Captain Walsh returned with Sir Thomas, who was very pleased to congratulate his niece. He asked the captain to remain for dinner, but he declined, as he was expected in Northampton and was already quite late in starting out. Sir Thomas then issued an invitation for his entire family party in Northampton to dine at Mansfield Park a few days hence, which was duly accepted. Edmund and his wife were also to be invited, as well as Mr. James Maddox. All of this being settled, the captain announced his intent to depart, and Fanny was permitted to walk with him to the stables for a more private leave-taking.
“I shall ride back to Northampton with a more contented heart than I had this morning on the ride to Mansfield,” he said to her.
“But you could not have been anxious,” replied Fanny.
“I thought you would accept me, but I was anxious nonetheless to have it accomplished. And now, I depart with the mixed sensations of delight in my success and sorrow for having to part with you.”
“I shall see you next week, when you come with your family to dine.”
“I hope very much I shall be able to call on you again before then, my dearest Fanny,” he replied. He then kissed her gently, and mounting his horse, was away.
Fanny was married to her sea captain within a month of becoming engaged, and although he returned to active service, he chose to retire within a year of their marriage when Lt. Price was promoted and given command of the Albion. Within two years Captain Price was married to Miss Walsh, who was happy to live aboard ship with him as he continued his career with great success. Eventually, they settled within ten miles of Captain and Mrs. Walsh. Susan eventually formed an attachment with Mr. James Maddox and in consequence of Edmund's having married so well, the living was given to him upon Dr. Grant's death so that he could continue the good work he had started in his school for boys. Susan therefore, remained close to Lady Bertram, by removing only so far as Mansfield Parsonage, and was her constant companion for the rest of her days.
Captain and Mrs. Walsh settled in a small cottage within twenty miles of Northampton, Mansfield Park, and Thornton Lacey, allowing them to visit their closest friends whenever they wished. They made frequent visits to Portsmouth as well, to visit Fanny's family. While Fanny enjoyed visiting her relations at Mansfield, she often reflected on the unexpected sensation of freedom she had felt on leaving it. For the first time in her life, she was free to do as she pleased and to finally control her own destiny, with a husband who loved her both rationally and passionately, and who frequently showed her the respect of not only seeking her opinion and her advice, but often following it. She loved him deeply and lived out her life in greater happiness than she had ever been taught to expect was possible since her arrival at Mansfield Park.