“Fanny was disposed to think the influence of London very much at war with all respectable attachments.” 'Mansfield Park', Volume III, Chapter XIV
It has been remarked that two is company and three a crowd, but for Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth as they embarked on their wedding journey with Miss Bertram in tow, the alternative saying that 'three is company and two none' might have been more applicable.
“An odd sort of start to married life,” Lady Stornaway was to remark subsequently to her sister Mrs. Fraser.
“But who could blame dear Mrs. Rushworth for preferring her sister's company to her husband's? I know I should have done if I had the misfortune to be married to Mr. Rushworth.”
“You might as well be,” responded the other, “considering the grief Mr. Fraser has given you.”
“I think Mrs. Rushworth had her eye on rather more prosaic attractions than Mr. Rushworth's figure, Flora,” commented Miss Crawford, who was staying with the Frasers.
“I suppose I could certainly put up with a great deal to be mistress of Sotherton and have an income of £12,000 a year!” acknowledged Mrs. Fraser.
“She would have had your brother otherwise, from what I hear,” said Lady Stornaway shrewdly.
Miss Crawford laughed. “Poor Henry and his meagre £4000! Well, they are out of her reach now, if she ever wanted them.”
“And Henry is free again; that is the material point. You must put in a good word for Margaret, Mary. You did not see her when he first left for Northamptonshire; we were obliged to throw a masquerade just to get her to smile again, and I need hardly tell you that it has left us very much out of pocket.”
“And you had no enjoyment of it yourselves at all, I'm sure! Well, I shall do my best, Janet, but I can promise nothing. I told you about Miss Price did I not? I laughed at first to be sure, but he is quite devoted to her.”
“It is very odd! And she has no fortune at all, you say? Very odd indeed.”
For some minutes the sisters could make no more meaningful contribution to the conversation than to exclaim at Mr. Crawford's inexplicable and offensive decision to offer marriage to a girl who possessed neither fortune nor fashion instead of to Miss Fraser who had both. Miss Crawford hardly listened to them; she was expecting Edmund Bertram at any minute and was too occupied in pacing from her seat to the window and back again to pay a great deal of attention to her friends.
Eventually, however, Lady Stornaway recalled the original point of discussion. “Well, whatever motivation they had in bringing Miss Bertram with them to London, you must admit it's very much to her advantage that she should have such a season. The Rushworths always were good Ton and now they are better.”
“And she could hardly ask for anything better than Wimpole Street!”
“Nobody who saw the house when it was Lady Lascelles' (poor woman – but she could hardly have remained there after Sir Alfred shot himself) could imagine it improved, but I declare the drawing room is a vast deal lighter now they have replaced the curtains.”
Miss Bertram's feelings on visiting London for the first time may be easily imagined. She felt all the excitement and nervousness that naturally accompanies a first presentation in high society, and equally naturally pretended to feel neither. Nevertheless, the improvement of her looks and spirits from what they had been in Brighton was noticeable and she did not conceal her feelings well. Indeed, after the obligatory sighting of Prinny on the pier (his girth alone made him impossible to miss) Brighton had proved a dead bore to both sisters. It was too early in the year for sea bathing, the assembly rooms were not crowded, and Mr. Rushworth did not have much acquaintance there. The sooner they took the Wimpole Street house and repaired to London the better, was a sentiment felt equally by both Maria and Julia.
The sisters were once more friends. Jealousy of each other had been tempered by Maria's marriage, and as their tempers were united in irritation against Mr. Rushworth, they got on almost as well as they had before the name of 'Crawford' had ever been pronounced at Mansfield. Perhaps Mrs. Rushworth might have displayed her superiority over her unmarried sister rather more than was strictly necessary, but Julia felt too keenly her own good fortune in going with them at all to resent this more than might be expected in the circumstances.
As soon as the party arrived in London they found themselves plunged into a social whirl that made Brighton seem as sleepy as Mansfield. Sir Thomas' cousin Mrs. Lawrence had secured for both a presentation at court not to mention vouchers to Almack's, the holy grail of London society. Maria threw herself into London society with vigour and made it her chief occupation to know everybody and everybody's business. She intended to set herself up as a great hostess, and where Maria led, Julia was happy to follow.
Tom Bertram and the Honourable John Yates were among the first to call and offer their congratulations, along with the Lawrence cousins, Jack Lawrence being a great friend of both, and his sister Sophie.
Julia's first thought on Mr. Yates being announced was annoyance. She had only liked him as someone to whom she could freely complain about the cast of Lovers Vows. His attentions towards her had been tolerable only because they had soothed the wound of Mr. Crawford's neglect, but with no play and no Henry to provoke her into listening to him, she had no interest in him.
His own interest in her, however, seemed undiminished. As soon as it was polite to do so, he sat down next to her and engaged her attention exclusively for the duration of the visit. As she had predicted, the conversation soon turned to the play.
“'Pon my honour, it was a bad thing your father arriving when he did. Ecclesford all over again! Happier excuse for breaking it up of course – better a prodigal father than a dead dowager! - but rotten luck all the same. We were so close to being ready to perform too. Only a few more days!”
“It was a great shame,” replied Julia with weary politeness, and wishing either him or herself miles away.
“And your poor aunt- I wonder what use she will get out of all that green baize now!”
“I haven't the least idea.”
“Well, well,” continued Yates, his glance falling on Mrs. Rushworth, queen like in the place of honour, “I did wonder if we might not try again. Your father will not have dramatics at Mansfield and we must respect that of course – dashed nuisance, but he's of an older generation, so it's not to be wondered at – but why not try next year at Sotherton?”
Julia glanced at him in something to close to horror. She had hated almost everything connected to the play and the thought of reprising it was repugnant to her.
“But we should not have the Crawfords,” she objected, with only only a small tremor in her voice at the name.
“So much the better!” exclaimed Yates darkly. “What need have we for them? I always said Crawford was very lacking as Frederick. Such an undersized man as he only makes himself ridiculous in a lead role.”
“Everyone must look undersized to you,” said Julia. “He is not so very short.”
Yates did appear to hear her and continued in the same manner, “Why, anyone could do Frederick better than him! I'd undertake it myself, only I know the Baron so well now it seems a shame to learn a new part. And as for Amelia, without Miss Crawford, there can be no reason for you not to take it, Miss Bertram, and,” lowering his voice and speaking more warmly, “you should acquit yourself far better than she ever would have done.”
Julia flushed and was unsure what to think. Should she look forward to this new version of Lovers' Vows in which she might actually get a part and be included, or should she rather resent once more her secondary position to Maria who would still retain Agatha? On the other hand, if Henry Crawford was not to play Frederick, was Agatha really a part worth coveting?
Meanwhile, the discussion had become general and Tom cried, “The play again! Yates, you are forever speaking of the damned play!”
“Mr. Yates was just suggesting we try it at Sotherton next year,” said Julia, looking at her sister.
“Yes, do let's!” cried Miss Lawrence then. “I long to be in a play, and Mr. Yates has told me ever so much about Lovers' Vows!”
“There! Lawrence shall be our Frederick, and you will take the Cottager's Wife and everything is settled!”
Jack Lawrence laughed heartily. “I know nothing of this Frederick character, but I shall fall in with whatever plans you make. What say you, Mrs. R.? No objections I hope to a theatrical troupe descending on your house like this?”
“Surely Maria will be most happy to host it,” added Tom. “And Mr. Rushworth can have no objection - I should think he would want another shot at his famous two-and-forty speeches.”
All eyes turned to Mrs. Rushworth, but she only smiled coolly and said, “I cannot speak for my husband, but I for one would prefer that the play were not resurrected and were rather consigned to things that might have been.”
It was several weeks before they first found Miss Crawford at home. She was with Mrs. and Miss Fraser. As soon as it was clear her brother was not there as well, both Maria and Julia were able to relax a little, for they had been silently on edge ever since leaving Wimpole Street, in case he should also be at the Fraser's.
Pleasantries were exchanged with great curiosity and friendliness on the part of the hosts and rather more reserve from Mrs. Rushworth. Neither she nor Julia could be content until they had news of Henry, but neither had the courage to mention him first.
“Well!” said Miss Crawford eventually in a pause in the conversation while Mrs. Fraser poured the tea. “Neither of you have dared speak of my poor brother yet, so I must deduce either that he is out of your good graces – or you already know his news.”
Her sharp, bright eyes darted from one sister to the other. Mrs. Rushworth put her cup back down on its saucer with more heaviness than she would have liked and it was left up to Julia to say, “We have heard nothing of Mr. Crawford since leaving Mansfield. He is not in London with you?”
“No, he has been obliged to go to Norfolk for business, or he would have paid his compliments to you both sooner, I am sure. But perhaps you have heard of him from Mansfield!”
“The only thing we have heard from Mansfield is that Fanny has returned to her parents, and I am sure that does not concern Mr. Crawford!” bit out Mrs. Rushworth with something less than her usual civility.
Miss Crawford's delight in being the bearer of extraordinary news was complete. “More than you may think, my dear Mrs. Rushworth! For Henry has shocked every one of us, myself above all: before she left, he made Miss Price a proposal of marriage!”
The astonishment of the sisters was everything that Miss Crawford could desire. It was a great moment of triumph for her. Neither could speak. For a second Julia could not comprehend what she had heard. Had Miss Crawford told them that her brother had departed for Siberia she could hardly have believed it less. Henry Crawford and Fanny Price? It was inconceivable, utterly inconceivable.
“Can – can it be true?” she found herself asking.
The smile Miss Crawford gave her was almost kind. “Perfectly true, I assure you. He says he loves her desperately, and I must admit that after my first shock at it – which was really no less than your own - I have quickly come round to it. Fanny has just the right level of sweetness and intelligence to really capture and keep my brother's heart. It is an attachment that does him every credit and on proper reflection, I can only rejoice at it.”
Julia's feelings were in turmoil. Being second to Maria was a matter of course to her, but to have Fanny Price preferred to her was a deep insult. And for herself – Miss Crawford's visit brought back in a flurry all those feelings that she had been suppressing ever since their departure from Mansfield. Henry married to Fanny! The Crawfords in continual intercourse with Mansfield! Having to see him frequently in blissful happiness at the side of her cousin! Poor, plain Fanny exalted to mistress of Everingham! Had he chosen any other girl in the world, she would have found it more bearable.
One feeling, however, cut through all the others with the power to deaden their effect, and that was the bitter yet pleasurable realisation that Maria's punishment was now complete. To lose Henry Crawford in order to gain a greater fortune, estate and consequence was one thing. To lose him and gain a fool of a husband and then see him propose – actually propose – to Fanny barely weeks afterwards was quite another. What was the blow to Julia's vanity compared to what Maria must feel? She flushed, for she was vaguely aware that her feelings of exultation were beneath her.
She glanced at Maria, who in contrast was white and still quite unable to speak. Julia felt another surge of victory: at least she was still free to chose a second time!
Her eyes glittered as she replied to Miss Crawford with more spirit than she would have felt possible, buoyed by her sister's silence. “Now I think of it, I see that you are right! Truly, I would never have matched your brother with my cousin but they do say opposite temperaments may balance each other very well. I for one would welcome a nearer relationship with you, Miss Crawford.”
Miss Crawford blushed. “You are too kind, and perhaps – but I shall say no more. I have an irrational fear that to speak of a thing in anticipation only makes its fulfilment less likely!”
Julia wondered if she was referring to Edmund and felt a kind of surprise that it should advance so far. Miss Crawford was a great match for him, it was true, but she could not see where the attraction would lie for the lady in marrying such a retiring clergyman. Still, she would definitely prefer to have Mary as a sister than Henry as a cousin.
She wished she could speak to Miss Crawford alone and ask her what really was the state of affairs between her brother and Fanny. For surely if there had been a definite engagement, she would not have gone to Portsmouth and Sir Thomas would have written to them of it. Maria's lack of composure, however, and the presence of the Frasers prevented her from asking.
It was not until Maria's first party in Wimpole Street the following week that Julia had an opportunity to talk to Miss Crawford away from her sister.
“Is it true what you say of your brother and Fanny? Are they to be married?”
Miss Crawford replied in an undertone. “I hope so. I have every confidence in Henry prevailing eventually, but Fanny is not to be won over easily, and I suppose it is to her credit that it is so.”
Was she implying what Julia thought she must be? “Fanny refused him?”
Here, Miss Crawford did look vexed but she brushed it off with a laugh. “Yes, she did, impudent creature! But Henry means to visit her in Portsmouth; he is very concerned for her situation there, and I have tried to persuade her to let us fetch her – it would not be out of the way in the slightest for us – but she won't have any of it. Nevertheless, I believe a few months in such a home as I am sure she has found there will be enough for her to see Henry in a more favourable light, and I have a little fancy that your father intended something of the kind when he suggested this visit.”
There was plenty of new information here for Julia to digest but before she could get her head round it, Miss Crawford was speaking again. “But tell me, my dear Miss Bertram, how did Mrs. Rushworth take it? I was rather worried for her when we visited.”
“Maria hasn't spoken of it,” replied Julia hastily, feeling rather guilty, as if speaking of her sister constituted some kind of betrayal. “But she is married, you know; such news cannot affect her so much any more.”
“No, to be sure, once the ring is on the finger, a woman forgets everything of her previous life and has no conception of anyone beyond the husband she has chosen. Fortunate Mr. Rushworth!”
“Very true, my dear,” cried Mrs. Fraser, emerging from the crowd at Miss Crawford's side. “Of whom are we speaking?”
“My brother. Who else?”
Mrs. Fraser's eyes lit up, and she fanned herself as if suffering mock faintness. “Oh, who else! You know I never think of him, Mary.”
“Except as a suitor to Margaret.”
The two women laughed privately and Julia felt not for the first time that she was on the outside of a very amusing joke. She wished to understand and to be accepted in this circle of fashionable women but was not sure what she had to do to achieve that. Probably marry somebody very rich whom she did not care for. It was what everyone else did.
“Excuse me for interrupting your tête-à-tête,” said Mrs. Fraser presently. “If your conversation is of Mr. Crawford, then you will not want to leave your subject alone too long, but I did come over here to congratulate you, Miss Bertram. Your sister has out done herself. I predict great things from Mrs. Rushworth!”
“Thank you, but you had better tell Maria that yourself!” responded Julia with some spirit.
“I tell you, every married lady here is terrifically jealous of her. The decorations in the supper room alone must have cost hundreds!”
“And every unmarried lady is jealous of you,” added Miss Crawford slyly. “You sit in the pride of place at Mrs. Rushworth's right hand. Situated as you are, you should have the choice of the best suitors this season.”
“I wish you'd tell them that, Miss Crawford!” In truth, though Julia had never lacked for dance partners or casual admiration since arriving in London, only Mr. Yates had pursued her with anything like serious intent. She would almost have appreciated him for it, if he were not so very dull.
“You do have one admirer who never leaves your side, unless he cannot help it,” she replied knowingly. “But you can do better than Mr. Yates, Julia, now that you are in London and known as Mrs. Rushworth's sister. I should settle for nothing less than a real baron with your connections, and not merely a ranting one.”
Julia blushed and wondered if her friend was right. Would Maria's marriage really be so advantageous for her in that way? Could she get one up on her sister and marry a title? Surely Miss Crawford knew best in these matters.
“John Yates' prospects are not as bad as you make out, Mary,” said Mrs. Fraser thoughtfully. “If he should have taken your fancy, Miss Bertram, you could do much worse. Lord Stornaway knows the elder brother intimately and Flora tells me he is addicted to very high living; racing, drinking – and other things. He is almost certain to break his neck one of these days if the pox does not get him first. Moreover,” dropping her voice to an impressive whisper, “Lady Carbury has produced nothing but daughters and is quite worn out though she is not yet thirty!”
Miss Crawford was suitably impressed, and Julia did look in Mr. Yates' direction with more interest than previously. She had never given any thought to his family except that he was a younger son and therefore, like Edmund, did not even have future wealth and consequence to make him attractive.
Still, she was hesitant and Miss Crawford noticed and whispered to her when Mrs. Fraser's attention was distracted, “Believe me, I understand your reluctance: Janet is not at all to be relied on, and when it comes to it you may think that a mere baronet in the hand is better than a viscount in the bush!”
Julia giggled nervously at this, feeling that Miss Crawford was very daring and admiring her for it, whilst nevertheless feeling that she ought not to for some reason.
She wondered what her father would think if he could have heard them, and felt very glad he could not.
It was not until she was alone again later that night, that she was able to think through what she had heard of Mr. Crawford, of Fanny, and of her own prospects. She looked back on the winter's events and tried to remember anything that might explain Mr. Crawford's sudden infatuation with Fanny, but she could not come up with anything. She had watched him enough to feel sure that if there had been any notable interaction between them she would have been able to recall it, but there was nothing. It must then have developed since she and Maria had left, but that gave a very bad impression of his character. He had toyed with her feelings, and Maria's too, and when once they were gone, he had transferred his attentions to the only unmarried woman left in the neighbourhood. She could not imagine that there was anything intrinsically attractive about Fanny to draw him in. His only motivation then must have been mischief, and for this reason she found it harder to believe Miss Crawford when she said he had made Fanny an offer. People did not change so much in so short a time and even if they did she doubted that Fanny's powers were sufficient to effect such a transformation on such a man.
One thing came clear from these meditations, however. She finally understood that Henry Crawford had never been in love with her. It had been Maria all along that he had pursued and his attention to her had only been a smoke screen. She doubted now that he had loved even Maria, if he loved anyone but himself. She felt angry with him now, but it was a purer anger than anything she had felt previously, and better directed. She had been imposed upon and her feelings manipulated, but she was left materially unharmed.
What did Maria think of all this? Julia could not tell. Once more, the sisters were almost strangers to each other. Henry Crawford had come between them again even in his absence. Julia had not the courage to mention his name when they were alone together; Maria's friendship towards Miss Crawford was stilted, and her irritation towards her husband acuter, but apart from that there was no indication of any change in her since hearing of Mr. Crawford's proposal to Fanny Price, if proposal there had been, which Julia privately doubted.
Mrs. Fraser's party took place in the middle of March, to which the Wimpole Street party were invited. Henry Crawford, moreover, was in London and they were to see him at the party. Tom and Edmund were also invited, and no doubt the Lawrences would be there too, with Mr. Yates with them. Julia dressed particularly carefully for this event and she saw that Maria did too, though she pretended a carelessness that was not quite convincing.
Mr. Crawford was perceived before they were in the room five minutes. He approached them directly with his usual smile and greeted them with affable civility. Julia responded to his advances with good humour for she saw that Maria was the more affected, but she had the pleasure of seeing her recent opinion of him vindicated. He was distracted when talking to her and would have clearly preferred Mr. Rushworth to be elsewhere and Mrs. Rushworth not so cold. For she was truly glacial. She spoke barely five words to him before dragging her husband off to speak to someone else, leaving Julia and Mr. Crawford together.
Julia felt a sense of nervousness that had nothing to do with love for him and everything to do with a new consciousness of their past relationship.
“Mrs. Rushworth is not happy to see me!” he cried eventually, looking at her with something between self-mockery and embarrassment.
“Nonsense,” lied Julia boldly. “Only she has so many acquaintances in London now that she can hardly spend more than a minute with each.”
He knew this to be false and looked sideways at her with an expression of amusement. “But you are pleased to see me, I think. We were always good friends.”
“Yes,” she replied serenely. “We were.”
He laughed now and she realised that he was definitely embarrassed. She felt a rush of power and grew bolder in her unconcern at his presence.
“I hope I shall be able to win back Mrs. Rushworth's friendship eventually. Do you think I have a chance, Miss Bertram?”
“I don't know, but why don't you try? I should think it just the kind of game that would amuse you.”
He looked at her as if he expected a trick but her expression was so neutral that he was obliged to look away again. Inside she was laughing. Was this how Maria felt all the time when talking to men? It was delicious. If only she had known before that all it required was keeping her countenance and lying through her teeth, she felt things might have gone very differently for her.
“A hit, Miss Bertram, a palpable hit, as our theatrical friend Yates would say! But things have changed now.” He became grave suddenly and his voice deepened into what could have passed for sincerity, if she had been able to believe anything he said. “You have perhaps heard from Mary of my attachment to your cousin, Fanny. I am an altered man, Miss Bertram.” He shook his head. “I look back on my behaviour in the autumn with chagrin.”
“Really? I enjoyed myself prodigiously!” She allowed herself a little giggle that the old Julia Bertram of Mansfield Park might have been proud of. “Though,” she continued soberly, “I am sure nothing could be more natural than your attachment to Miss Price. I wish you joy!”
She was pleased to see that he looked thoroughly unnerved at her reaction. Perhaps he had meant her to faint or fall into hysterics. Proving him wrong was quite the best thing she had done since coming to London. In that moment she felt that even Mary Crawford and her fashionable friends might approve of her. Why, even Maria might not be ashamed of her!
“Thank you, Miss Bertram. Your congratulations support me at this moment; for it is painful for me to see Miss Price in such surroundings as her father's house in Portsmouth. She does not have the constitution for it! She deserves far better!”
He spoke eagerly and Julia was really surprised. “Did you actually visit her?”
“Yes, and I hope that I was able to bring her some relief. I wish she would let Mary and I bring her away to London.”
This was strange. This did not fit her assessment of him. Could he truly care for Fanny? Her hesitation must have shown on her face, for he smiled gravely and said, “You must believe me, Miss Bertram, that I am perfectly serious about Miss Price.”
“I have no doubt of it!” she answered quickly, feeling her confidence slip away and resenting him for being able to engage her attention again so easily.
“Frankly, you would be right to doubt me! You are more generous than I deserve,” he replied, looking keenly down at her.
This was true, and Julia could not be bothered to reassure him. Unlike her sister, she got little enjoyment out of playing games, mainly because she tended to lose them.
“Probably,” she snapped.
He was repulsed, and left her soon afterwards to a greater confusion of feelings than she had felt since her first meeting in London with Miss Crawford.
He was soon afterwards replaced by Edmund who was clutching a glass of punch as if it were a grenade about to explode and scowling blackly.
“This is a terrible party! I should not have come!” was his opening line to her.
Julia grimaced. Was everyone going to be bad tempered at her tonight? It was enough to try the patience of a saint. “Why did you then?”
“I had to. I have called – several – times on the Frasers since being in town. It would be a dreadful insult to them to miss their party.”
And miss an opportunity for staring pathetically at Miss Crawford, added Julia silently.
“Well, you've made an appearance now. Why don't you go home if it is so disagreeable to you?”
“I would not be doing my duty by you and Maria if I left so soon,” he replied stoically, his eyes darting among the crowd in search of – well, Julia could easily imagine.
Trust Edmund to spoil every innocent pleasure by making it about duty.
“You needn't bother, brother. Maria has her husband to look after her, and I have plenty of friends. I am having a splendid time! You needn't worry yourself on our account.”
As if to prove her point, she raised her hand in greeting and smiled widely at proud, dull Miss Fraser as she passed.
“Can you really enjoy yourself here among these people?” he asked her, sounding almost pained.
“Of course!” she replied flippantly. “Can't you?”
He shook her head. “It is mortifying...”
He carried on speaking almost to himself but Julia did not listen. The next thing she was aware of him saying was that he intended to return to Mansfield the following day.
“Well, you'll be happier there, I'm sure,” she replied. “Does Tom go too?”
Edmund shook his head. “He is engaged to go to Newmarket with some friends. I wish he would come home though. And you are to go to the Lawrences for Easter, I understand. Father was very keen that you should keep up this connection with his family.”
“Yes, old Mrs. Rushworth is to come to London and we decided it would be better I was gone while she and Maria get used to each other.” A scheme Julia thoroughly approved of.
“Good. I hope you will behave with due respect towards the Lawrences while you are staying with them. It is very kind of them to invite you.”
Julia's lip twitched and she wondered if Edmund had met the family. From the way he spoke of them, she assumed not. “Sophie Lawrence is a particular friend of mine. I am very happy to be going to stay with them.”
Not even pity for Maria's plight at being stuck with both Rushworths on her own could persuade her to sacrifice her self-interest on this point.
Breakfast a week or so later, however, brought a change of plan. Maria had received a note from Helen Aylmer, a new friend, inviting her to stay with her before Easter. She had a house in Twickenham and intended to have a great deal of the very best company round, boat trips on the Thames, excursions to Richmond and everything that was pleasant... Maria very much wanted to go.
“But what about my mother?” protested Mr. Rushworth. “We are going to Bath to fetch her to London. I know how much she is looking forward to it.”
“Oh my, I quite forgot about her!” replied Maria with total unconcern. “But you were saying yourself only the other day that you felt she missed being able to talk to you confidentially now that we are married.”
“Was I, my dear? I'm not-”
“Yes, you were, and I'm sure it's very natural of her to feel that way. And if you were to fetch her from Bath on your own, that would give you ample opportunity to be together before we meet again.”
It took Mrs. Rushworth several more hours to persuade her husband round to her way of thinking and obtain his consent for her to visit Mrs. Aylmer, but permission was at last accorded as it always was. Julia did admire the way her sister managed him.
Within a fortnight the Wimpole Street party had broken up. Maria went to Twickenham, her husband to Bath, and Julia to the Lawrences' house in Montague Place. Instantly, she felt more at home. Her cousins were lively and unpretentious people with many friends of the same nature. Mrs. Lawrence was a liberal but kind hostess and Julia felt very welcome among them, perhaps especially because Maria was not present. It seemed terribly disloyal, but Julia really did feel more able to be herself when her sister was not with her.
In this convivial household, Mr. Yates was almost a daily visitor and was less of a nuisance when diluted by people who actually liked him. Moreover, his persistence was beginning to pay off in a small way. Julia could not help noticing that the majority of her admirers had followed her sister to Twickenham or at least appeared to have abandoned her, and she was forced to draw the conclusion that they had been more interested in her as a conduit to Mrs. Rushworth than for her own merits. It was a provoking and distressing thought. At least Mr. Yates was single-minded in his attentions.
This pleasant interlude was destined not to last, however. Not long after the sisters had separated, Mrs. Rushworth paid a surprise visit in Montague Place, bringing with her a letter from her mother, the contents of which had required instant communication with Julia. It said that whilst staying in Newmarket for the races, Tom had contracted a bad fever and had lain gravely ill for several days before anyone had seen fit to contact Sir Thomas about it. He was now back at Mansfield but in a very bad way and they feared for his life.
All were stricken.
“Damn, but I was at Newmarket!” exclaimed Jack Lawrence with a shake of his head. “Couldn't tell there was anything wrong with him – Bertram's always been strong as an ox! Of course, if I'd thought he was in any danger I should never have left him!” He looked appealingly from his mother to his sister, his cousins and Yates.
“What should we do?” Julia asked Maria immediately, turning to her as a matter of course. “We should go home. I'm sure Papa would prefer to have us with him.”
“Ihave no intention of going to Mansfield. My place is with my new family now. Tom must survive or not without me. Besides, Mrs. Aylmer cannot do without me. You may do as you please, of course.”
This was not very encouraging of any course of action and seemed callous even by Maria's standards. “I think I ought to go home,” she said after a moment's thought.
Maria shrugged. “As you wish. But you will only be in the way there. Fanny is to come home as soon as she can be fetched, I believe, and she will manage Mama best of us.”
Julia flushed. The contrast between Mrs. Rushworth indispensable at a house party at Twickenham and Miss Bertram trumped by Fanny Price as a sister and daughter (not to mention as a lover) was striking.
“Mrs. Rushworth is quite right!” insisted Yates then. “You are too necessary to us here in London to think of our sparing you even for a week. You must remain here – Miss Price is a jolly sort of girl and will take good care of poor Bertram.”
This was a sort of flattery and it was most welcome at that moment. Nevertheless, Julia felt guilty at giving in to her own amusement in this way if Tom was truly ill. “All the same, I think I had better go – if only for a few weeks. My duty must be to my brother at this time.” Then, suddenly anxious that she sounded too much like Edmund, she went quickly to the writing desk to get her duty over with as quickly as possible. “At least, I shall write to say I can come if needed. There, then I am not disappointing anyone!”
As it happened, she was not needed, and Julia resumed her life in Montague Place with only slightly diminished gaiety. Her mother, perhaps pleased at her volunteering to return, sent her almost daily updates on Tom's progress, and in this way she felt justified in enjoying herself for the twenty-three hours and fifty minutes of each day that she did not spend contemplating her brother's plight.
Only one thing marred her pleasure at this period and that was an unwelcome visit from an old friend of her father's, a Mr. Harding. His relationship with her father was sufficient to force Julia to grant him the private interview that he requested with her, though she did not expect to enjoy it, and could not imagine what a gentleman she had never met could possibly want with her.
He was in a state of great agitation and came to the point very quickly. “Have you heard from Mrs. Rushworth recently?”
She could only shake her head, not sure whether to be offended or suspicious, and he continued, “You must forgive me the presumption of calling on you like this, Miss Bertram, but I could not rest without knowing if you were aware of the manner in which she is living in Twickenham with these Alymers!”
“I beg your pardon!”
His pacing was making her restless.
“I came from Richmond only yesterday, Miss Bertram, where I heard a most malicious rumour circulating concerning your sister and a certain Mr. Crawford and I could not rest until I had seen them and discovered the truth.”
“What of it?” burst out Julia, who was trying not to fiddle with the table cloth and keep her hands folded in her lap.
“Mrs. Rushworth lacks the protection of her husband at the moment. And people are talking, Miss Bertram, people are talking a great deal of their apparent intimacy. There may be some dreadful indiscretion at foot!”
Now Julia was angry. She stood up. “Mr. Harding, I don't know by what authority you think you can interfere in my sister's affairs, but your concerns are needless. Mr. Crawford and Maria were well acquainted at Mansfield last winter it is true, but I can assure you there is no relationship of the kind you infer. My sister is happily married and as for Mr. Crawford, I believe his affections are engaged elsewhere.”
She blushed guiltily at the lies she was telling and he, misunderstanding the cause, looked at her keenly and a little pityingly. “Your loyalty does your credit, but facts are facts. I came to tell you that I have written to Sir Thomas saying that it would be best if he came to London to remonstrate with Mrs. Rushworth to moderate her behaviour.”
Worse and worse! Julia could imagine exactly how her father would take such a letter. He would come to London directly, have a dreadful scene with Maria which would only serve to drive her closer to Mr. Crawford – if there was anything at all in Mr. Harding's base speculation and rumour mongering – then, on the basis that all London society was corrupt and inappropriate (he would have probably spoken with Edmund by then) would haul her off home without so much as “by your leave”. And then an end to all diversion!
“I don't know what you thought to achieve in coming to me, sir. I am perfectly assured of Mrs. Rushworth's innocence, and can see no reason to worry my father needlessly. My brother is very ill-”
She broke off, fearing she was allowing her anger to carry her away. Insulting her father's oldest friend to his face would not help her case if her predictions came to pass. “Mr. Rushworth returns to Wimpole Street with his mother in the next couple of days and my sister will join them then.”
She drew herself up as proudly as she could manage. “Your concern for my family is much appreciated but, with all due respect, sir, I think you are mistaken.”
He nodded and withdrew. “I very much hope so, Miss Bertram. I hope your dismissal of these reports is based on a truer knowledge of your sister's character than what I have been able to perceive on so short an acquaintance. Good day to you.”
He left, and when Miss Lawrence rushed into the room five minutes later, Julia was still sitting at the table with her eyes fixed blindly on a small figurine of the goddess Diana.
“What did he want? He had such a look of thunder as I passed him on the stairs!” cried Sophie, seizing her friend's hand in hers.
With an effort, Julia roused herself. “He only come to spread malicious gossip.” And she was sufficiently uneasy that for once she did not repeat it.
If Julia had been inclined to give any credence to Mr. Harding's report, her mind was set thoroughly at ease by a note from Maria the following Saturday announcing her return to Wimpole Street, with a postscript to the effect that she had already quarrelled with her mother-in-law over the dinner menu and the location of the box at the theatre that she had taken. This was very sisterly, very amusing, and Julia and Sophie smiled over the note and talked with pleasure of seeing Mrs. Rushworth in church the following day.
But though the friends spent the duration of the morning service at St. George's looking for the Rushworth party as discretely as they could, and consequently heard not one word of the sermon on temperance and chastity, they were nowhere to be seen.
“Perhaps Mrs. Rushworth was too fatigued after her journey to come to church and the young people stayed behind to keep her company,” suggested Mrs. Lawrence afterwards.
Julia did not think this very likely and privately thought Jack's suggestion that “they could not be bothered with such stupid nonsense,” far more probable. Perhaps they had all quarrelled again.
“At any rate, we shall call tomorrow and see for ourselves how they do,” said Mrs. Lawrence, and that was the end of it.
The planned visit to Wimpole Street, however, was destined never to take place. The following morning, just as the ladies of the family was preparing to leave, they were interrupted by the sound of Yates in the hallway below, ranting to a footman much as if he were on stage. Julia and Sophie peered over the bannister at him, wondering what the matter was; when he saw them, he immediately released the footman from his rhetoric and turned its power on them.
“Miss Bertram, Miss Lawrence! You must come down this instant! There is something you must read! There is no time to be lost!”
Mrs. Lawrence sighed. “Get rid of him as quickly as you can, girls. And mind it is quick; we are just going out. It is far too early for him to call.” Then she retreated to her room.
Once downstairs, Mr. Yates' agitation was even more noticeable. He was clutching a copy of The Times and striding up and down in his riding boots in a state of alarm that could hardly be distinguished from acted perturbation.
“What is it?” asked Sophie. Julia stood a little back. A strange feeling of evil presentiment had come over her. An incomplete anxiety that she had been ignoring ever since the Rushworths had failed to appear at church returned to the front of her mind, and she was afraid to inquire.
“You'd better come in here,” said Yates, glancing at the footman he had been abusing a minute earlier. He pushed open the dining room door and closed it behind them.
“What do you mean by all this secrecy?” cried Julia, now thoroughly alarmed.
His expression was uncharacteristically grim, and he handed her the newspaper, pointing to a column in the centre of one of the society pages. “Read this.”
"It is with infinite concern that this newspaper has to announce to the world, a matrimonial fracas in the family of Mr. R. of Wimpole Street; the beautiful Mrs. R. whose name has not long been enrolled in the lists of hymen, and who has promised to become so brilliant a leader in the fashionable world, has quitted her husband's roof in company with the well known and captivating Mr. C. the intimate friend and associate of Mr. R. and it is not known, even to the editor of the newspaper, whither they are gone.”
“What does it mean?” said Sophie stupidly as soon as she had read it over Julia's shoulder.
Julia felt the paper slip through her fingers, and would have collapsed if Yates had not grabbed her arm and supported her with more effectiveness than delicacy. She at least had sufficient quickness to comprehend the import of the report on a first reading.
“You should not be too alarmed, dear Miss Bertram,” said he, contradicting his earlier caution. “This sort of thing of thing happens all the time! Marriage vows, you know... far more fluid than you'd think... that is, assuming there's any truth in it. For my part, I'm inclined to think...” He trailed off, aware that he had perhaps finally gone too far.
He was far too close to her. Julia pushed him away and groped her way to a chair. It was true, all of it, quite true; she was convinced of it. She had never really believed in Mr. Crawford's supposed attachment to Fanny. Some fancy there had perhaps been which Miss Crawford had no doubt exaggerated into a proposal for mischievous reasons of her own. Oh, they were wicked, these Crawfords! Moreover, if any further confirmation were needed, she had only to think of Mr. Harding's humiliating visit. As for Maria, it was only Julia's desire not to see what she did not want to see, that had concealed Maria's continuing affection for him from her. She had preferred to think of her own triumph over her sister and not what Maria's disappointment might lead to. Yet even in this great act of unsurpassable scandal, Maria had proved herself the more daring of the two. Amidst the shock and dread of the moment, Julia was horrified to realise that she still admired and envied her sister's courage in taking this final step.
She hardly noticed Sophie picking up the newspaper and reading the announcement again, murmuring that she ought to tell her mother, and leaving the room. For several minutes she remained in a state of silent stupefaction, and it was only Mr. Yates pressing a glass of wine into her hands that brought her back to the reality of the situation.
He drew up a chair besides her and watched over her with the closest he came to solicitude as she sipped mechanically at the wine. He made several false starts at speaking but eventually said with an attempt at levity, “It may be all a terrible mistake. It may be-”
He stopped at her expression of scorn.
“Are you stupid? Of course it's true!” she snapped with fierce if quiet intensity. This was undeservedly harsh, but she felt the necessity of lashing out and he had made himself available for it. And there was something satisfying in finally letting rip at him after all these months of restrained politeness, and in saying what she truly thought. What did she have to lose now, after all?
“Miss Bertram, I-”
Once again, he was unable to finish his sentence, this time because there was a commotion in the hallway. Julia, the colour rushing back to her cheeks, jumped up from her chair, as the door was flung open by the footman who announced with the glee that comes from the knowledge of being part of a truly extraordinary sequence of events, “Mrs. Rushworth!”
For a split second Julia had a wild hope that it might be Maria to tell her of the most absurd joke: had she seen The Times, wasn't it wildly funny? Then Mrs. Rushworth, the dowager, stalked into the room with enough rage to fill the sails of an entire fleet of battleships.
“I demand to see Miss Bertram this instant!” she exclaimed as she entered the room, also holding a copy of the offensive paper, and abruptly stopped when she saw Julia standing in front of her.
“I assume you have long known of this infamous scandal brewing while Rushworth and I were in Bath! You were privy to it all I dare say!”
Julia found her tongue sufficiently to address the injustice of this attack. “Not at all, madam! I knew nothing about it! And I don't know why are you are being so hard on me; it wasn't my house they left together!”
For a moment she thought Mrs. Rushworth might strike her, but the newspaper was presently lowered.
“Insolent girl! You dare to insinuate any of this is my fault when I have done everything I could to cover it up! Do you think I want scandal and ruination?”
Julia almost replied that she clearly had not been doing a very good job at concealment and did she know that the servants were listening to them right now, but stopped herself just in time.
“I suppose you are too ignorant to realise what this means for you!” Mrs. Rushworth continued. “You have probably been brought up to think adultery is an acceptable form of behaviour - I saw how it was when I saw that collection of dissolutes you had assembled at Mansfield Park for that miserable excuse for play acting!”
Julia flushed angrily. This was not only unfair but untrue. Mrs. Rushworth had been quite happy to meet the Crawfords, and had had no objection to the play either at that time.
The mention of Lovers' Vows, however, was enough to bring Mr. Yates leaping out from behind the door where he had jumped when it had first been opened on Mrs. Rushworth's arrival.
“This is too much, madam! I really won't hear you address Miss Bertram in this disrespectful way!” he boomed very impressively. “If the lady says she knows nothing of it, then be so good as to believe her!”
If the situation had not been so desperate, Mrs. Rushworth's expression on encountering Baron Wildenhaim in all his glory would have made Julia laugh. As it was, her vocal reaction was limited to a trembling, “What is that?”
“This is Mr. Yates, madam. You met him at Mansfield Park. I think you will find he is one of the collection of dissolutes you so unfairly disparage.”
Mrs. Rushworth's gaze swept scornfully down him and she sniffed. “You'd better leave, sir. My business is with Miss Bertram.”
For a moment he had quailed, but at this he came to stand next to Julia. “Never! As long as you continue to abuse her in this way, I shall not leave her side!”
Julia was impressed. She could not imagine even Tom would have come to her defence so thoroughly, and he was her brother.
“Well, stay or go as you please, it is the same to me, but I dare say you will be the only one. Who will consort with the sister of an adulteress? Who will marry her? Who will want anything to do with her family ever again?”
Yates' presence at her side gave her courage to reply with more controlled anger, “I hope I have friends enough who value me for my own sake and not just for my sister's position.”
Mrs. Rushworth's lip curled. “I almost pity you, Miss Bertram. So very naïve about the ways of society! Do you really think you are so very attractive that any gentleman would bring himself to form an alliance with such a disgraced family? The label of 'adulteress' will forever taint you!”
This hurt, if only because it touched a very raw nerve. But then her companion surprised her again.
“Any gentleman who could meet Miss Bertram and think only of her sister would be unworthy of Miss Bertram's good opinion!” he exclaimed warmly. “I think you had better leave now, Mrs. Rushworth. Miss Bertram has suffered a terrible personal calamity this morning and you are only distressing her further.”
Mr. Yates was too physically imposing a figure for Mrs. Rushworth to resist and she was forced to back out of the room. “I wash my hands of you all!” she cried as a parting shot.
Julia found that she was trembling and crying, and sat down heavily. The world 'adulteress' echoed round her head. Maria was an adulteress. Maria had abandoned her husband and marriage for the worthless Henry Crawford, and she, Julia, would pay the price for it! She could not tell whether she felt more sorry for Maria or for herself.
Having seen Mrs. Rushworth off the property, Mr. Yates returned to the dining room and sat back down next to Julia. Her ranting champion was gone and he was only a rather ordinary young man who blustered because he did not know what to say to her.
“I wouldn't have thought the old lady had it in her! Pretty powerful pair of lungs. I'd like to see her do a Mrs. Hardcastle, or even the great Malaprop herself!”
Julia could not even muster a smile, but she managed a sniff and suppressed hiccup. She could not help thinking that confrontations of the kind she had just experienced usually had a much more satisfactory outcome in novels than this was likely to bring forth.
“I'm sorry about it, Miss Bertram, really I am. Devilish nuisance for everyone. I hope you don't think I overstepped the mark though with the battle-axe. But I could not hear her insult you in that way and not say anything.”
“No,” she said, hastily brushing the tears from her cheek, “you were splendid. Truly.”
The look of pleasure that suffused his entire countenance at this first sign of appreciation almost blinded her. Nobody had ever looked at her like that before, or perhaps he had but she had never taken the trouble to perceive it.
She swallowed, suddenly nervous, and then said timidly, “Do you think – do you think what she said is true? Will nobody have anything to do with me? Because of – of what Maria has done.”
He took her hand that lay on the top of the table in both his large ones. “Dearest Miss Bertram, I cannot say what society may or may not do.” He frowned. “Well, dash it, they probably won't be best pleased.”
Julia felt more tears threatening and willed them away. She felt angry at her weakness but did not know how to control it. “Mrs. Fraser-” she started, trying to find some positive way of examining the situation. “Mrs. Fraser and her friends, Miss Crawford herself, they are always talking of scandal as if it were an every day occurrence. Theywill surely not condemn it. They will see it as nothing more than a passing folly that will blow over by and by.”
Even as she spoke, however, she knew it was futile wish. An elopement might easily be forgotten in a couple of months if the pair were well married, but a case of adultery and one in such public circles could have no such happy ending. Why had Maria done it? Could not she have endured the lot she had chosen with open eyes like the rest of them did, and if she could not, what was so very bad about a discreet affair? Did they still think they were on stage?
Mr. Yates' silence confirmed her fears. Was Edmund then to be right about society as a two-faced, unsympathetic monster? Would the people whom she had considered her friends desert her now, and the men she had laughed over accepting with Miss Crawford or Sophie in a hypothetical future abandon her? Though still innocent of any wrongdoing, she would return in disgrace to Mansfield Park. She felt a new surge of resentment towards her sister. She had committed no folly yet would doubtless be the one to endure whatever restrictions her father saw fit to impose and be forced to listen to more lectures meant rather for the absent Maria's ears.
“Oh, it is so unfair!” she cried out loud, almost forgetful of where she was.
Mr. Yates tightened his grip on her hands. “It is unfair, but please, Miss Bertram, Julia, don't give in to despair. There is one person who will never abandon you.”
Her eyes darted to his in surprise. “You cannot be serious! Of all times!”
He coloured but cleared his throat and ploughed on all the same, now that he had finally begun. “It makes no difference to me what your sister does – meaning no disrespect, Miss Bertram, but I couldn't care less about Mrs. Rushworth – but I do love you, and I always have and always will, and dash it, Julia, what society thinks has nothing to do with it! And I know you don't love me but perhaps in time you might-”
“Yes!” cried Julia forcefully, surprising both of them.
“Yes, I'll marry you!”
She stopped abruptly, as if she had been about to say something more. They stared at each other in wide eyed amazement, their hands joined on the table between them. Julia could not think what had come over her.
“Are you sure?” he protested, sounding more dubious than an accepted lover had any right to be.
“Yes!” she replied quickly before she could change her mind.
Was it fear? Or desperation? Or desire for attention? Or was she still bound to Maria's will and a need to emulate her in all things? Or could there be another more creditable reason for her sudden capitulation? Julia was not accustomed to deep analysis of her own behaviour, or indeed any analysis, and her decision was a complete mystery to her at that point.
“But let's do it now,” she continued, speaking very rapidly, while she still had any courage. “Let's go now, before it is too late. If we do not go now, we shall have to wait for ever so long, thanks to Maria! And – and very probably your family won't like it.”
And neither will mine, she added silently, and looked at him anxiously.
“You mean Scotland? Dash it, Julia, what about our friends?”
“The Lawrences? They won't even notice we've gone until we've returned! Not when everybody is out looking for Maria and Mr. Crawford! And I shall leave a note for Sophie explaining everything so that they do not worry. It will be quite all right.”
He pulled himself together. “If that is what you truly wish-”
“It is,” she said, feeling not in the least bit sure.
And so it was settled between them. Julia passed the rest of the day in a daze. She replied automatically to Mrs. Lawrence's kindly meant queries, she endured Jack inappropriate humour and Sophie's sympathy with equal blank disregard. She did not know how she could have got through her first day as the tainted sister of an adulteress if she had not also considered it the last. She went upstairs early, wrote her letter to Sophie, and another to her father, packed a small suitcase and then went to bed. The following morning would see the next chapter of her life start: a life without Maria, without her father, without any kind of restraint (save those constraints placed upon her by her marriage vows, of course), and surely it was worth being the wife of John Yates to gain such freedom? She tossed and turned for many hours but could come to no satisfactory conclusion on this point. It seemed Maria had not been able to either, but Julia felt with stubborn pride that she was better than her sister. Moreover, Mr. Yates had that day shown a strength of character she had not thought he possessed. That made her choice instantly a superior one to Maria's, for Mr. Rushworth had never displayed much character at all, let alone strength thereof.
But these were too complicated thoughts for late at night. Julia fell asleep on would probably be her final night as Miss Bertram with the agreeable reflection that from all she had heard, Scotland was very pleasant in the springtime.