It is not to be supposed that a young man, so recently and violently disappointed in love, will not be forgiven by his dearest companions for an occasional lapse in delicacy, when the impetuous honesty of his feelings, so wholly justified, must overcome the bounds of gentility which a cautious society has set in order to better protect itself from those less fortunately able to govern themselves.
Such forgiveness, indeed, was demanded from Fanny Price more often than might be supposed by the very person making such claims on her sensibilities, but it was a claim made with such solicitous regard, such humble repentance, that had her heart been wholly uninvolved in the matter, her conscience would have guided her to grant it with as much gentle good humour as must accompany any ordinary act of kindness. Indeed, the relief Fanny must have felt at possessing the utter certainty that Edmund Bertram could not, even in his most grievous expressions of disappointment or anger, ever fall to such levels of indecorum as would actually affront even her timid sensibilities, can only be imagined by those whose hearts have had to be burdened by fears of being so imposed.
Thus, when Edmund interrupted his own recriminations on the still painful subject of Mary Crawford's failings, with so heartfelt an apology to Fanny for using her solicitous ear so selfishly, he was stopped by a gentle smile that contained such serene affection, as to wholly convince him that one heart, at least, was struggling with no thwarted hopes or pangs of disappointment. Why Edmund needed to be reassured of that so regularly is a question best answered by the reader's own suspicion, but Fanny, at least, could not be expected to be unselfish enough to not find some reassuring warmth in assuring a hesitant gentleman that her feelings were completely unengaged and fully at his disposal.
"I do not wish to pain you, Fanny, in repeating my surprised disappointment at the depth of failings that you have been so kind as to only gently hint so much superior a knowledge of."
"You do not pain me at all! I am only sorry to have to wound you by not being able to contradict you in your assessment, when I know how generously you want to think the best of everyone." Fanny coloured, then spoke in a more hesitant voice, "I only wish I could have spared you this pain."
The cousins were walking under Mansfield Park's pleasantly verdant foliage, enjoying the last of the long summer evenings. Now Edmund turned and looked at Fanny, and the tender concern in her countenance seemed, all at once, too great a gift for his selfish worries. Edmund was not given to flights of prideful indulgence; he was too thoughtful to consider himself a victim of such proportions as to never be restored to tranquillity. His was not a naturally melancholy disposition. As the passage of time and the patient corroborations from Fanny worked on him, his understanding of the very real dangers of a susceptibility towards a mind so vastly disparate to his grew, and with it, the fears of ever finding another such object of affection must necessarily be put into perspective. With the healing of a bruised heart, it is natural that someone so solicitous as Edmund would turn his thoughts to that heart belonging to the source of his solace.
"But it is pain I deserve, is it not? Though I know you are too partial and good to ever say so. Come Fanny, you must tell me honestly, do you think me a fool for having indulged in such passion, albeit ignorant through blindness rather than wilfulness?"
"I do not think you a fool for wanting to be loved by a good woman, Edmund," Fanny sighed. "As to passion, that is perhaps best spoken of by those more inclined to comprehend it."
Now it was Edmund's turn to smile, as they paused by a bench and stood on either end of it, looking through the deepening twilight shadows at each other. "Come, Fanny, you know your own strength of character enough to not mistrust that passion would be any less noble in you than your affection in other forms. I would not have you fear it merely because such sorry examples of its dangers have been set before you."
Such concern for her heart could not but prompt in Fanny's own breast a desire to make herself understood as clearly as the modesty of a much-silenced spirit as hers could aspire to.
"I am not afraid of passion, Edmund, but I do not want my heart wrung from me, or pried away with scheming flirtations. I am not built for treating love as a game, to be won or lost or laughed away."
"You would not have your lover work for your heart, Fanny? You place too little value on it, and yourself."
There was a little silence, before Edmund heard Fanny speak again, with the gentle firmness he had grown accustomed to trusting.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; it is not self-seeking, nor easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongdoing. It does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth."
Edmund laughed, for it was the same verse that Susan had been embroidering on the sampler she had started, under Fanny's guidance. But before he could make some light jest about preaching to the preacher, Fanny continued, "I only try, Edmund, and I pray, to have that dutiful sentiment that meets the righteousness of its object--if passion is what my love deserves, then why should my heart have any fear of giving it?"
To this, Edmund had no answer, the lightness in his heart a quicker response than the gradual understanding in his mind that affections need not, perhaps, be engaged through painful uncertainty and self-doubt, but that they might, instead, be the product of the same quiet cultivation of duty and honour in body and soul that his life was so eminently disposed towards. It was with a clearer knowledge of his own inclination, that Edmund quoted, almost more to himself, than to his patient companion, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace?"
Edmund's counter-quotation, so similar to earlier, innocent games, drew forth from Fanny a perhaps more conscious response than that of a child seeking to earn approbation from a pastor. "Seek peace, and pursue it!" They both laughed, and Edmund agreed, perhaps a trifle conscious of the implication, that Fanny would certainly prove to be a formidable rival, if not a helpmeet for any in his profession; the security in knowing how closely to his own her character aligned lending his words a warmth that affected them both.
He did not fully understand her blushes then, nor notice their effect on her countenance, except to acknowledge to himself that the unselfish affection in Fanny's soft, light eyes was so different from the arch, demanding glances that he had been used to protecting his heart from, that he could bask in it with no unpleasant reminder of past regrets; a pleasure he realised he was fast growing accustomed to.
The reader must not suppose that it was too many days later when, in response to the quotation of a rather different verse from the Song of Solomon, the happy assent in Fanny's eyes prompted such expression of mutual affections as to render Fanny in no doubt as to the righteous inclination of her sentiments towards passion, and Edmund in need of a wholly different kind of apology, which was, assuredly, professed and accepted with as much delight as could be expected from two young people so inclined towards mutual generosity.