Written for Jack Chain for Yuletide 2004.
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Regrets and Reminiscences
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Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Bertram were married three winters when they made their first journey together to London. Attached as they both were to their native country, by domestic habits and a value for all that was familiar, they had been glad to defer the visit till then. However, it came to the point that they could no longer consult their own pleasure in the matter, and they were come to town as the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Yates, whose invitations had grown so pressing as to make no doubt of their being motivated by a some thing more than common civility, or even fraternal affection; their provenance could only be sincerity.
For Julia was not entirely happy in her marriage: the usual round of amusements in town, on which she had so depended, when still unattached, for her future happiness, were found insufficient wholly to occupy her; and there was no recourse to be had to the delights of her own hearth. Marriage had given Mr. Yates's characters some of the steadiness it had hitherto wanted; he could be pronounced a fairly good sort of man, a man who had no harm in him, but Julia had been accustomed to somewhat better in her first home. Deficient as her childhood had been in the instruction in the high principles, the want of which had led her sister astray, she and her siblings had not lacked in understanding. She had been used to rational conversation, to companions whose taste and breadth of mind lent interest to the small affairs which had concerned them; and this early good fortune had made her difficult to please. Mr. Yates and his friends were well-provided in the articles of fashion and variety, which had been so wanting in the society at Mansfield, but Julia had learnt to regret the good sense and elegance of mind which she had left behind her, and to see the possibility of her having them by her again, in the form of her brother and sister, as a very desirable thing.
Having some suspicion of her state, Edmund and Fanny could scarcely refuse her requests, grown ever more urgent, that they should stay with her in town a few weeks: with all the real affection which their hearts had always retained towards her, as a sister who had shared the scenes of their childhood, and, further, the fearful remembrance of the transgression into which Maria's dissatisfaction with her marriage had led her, to move them, they could not but finally submit, and hope that their family's past misfortune in London should not bode ill for the happiness of their visit there.
To Edmund, it was of supreme importance that Fanny should enjoy her visit to town, and it was his greatest concern that she should not be too troubled by the grievous associations which the thought of London should ever cast up in her memory, unleavened as it was by any happier recollection. To him it was not known only as the site of his family's disgrace and the destruction, once, of all his hopes, and even so he could not escape without a pang -- here it was that he had his last painful parting with Mary Crawford, here that his sister's and her brother's shame had colluded to make all friendly intercourse between the two families, which had been on such a footing of unusual intimacy, impossible for ever; he could not be unaffected by the memory.
He was the more anxious for knowing that Fanny could not but revert to all he had told her of his separation with Miss Crawford; and though the confidence she had reposed in his candour since childhood had never lessened, her spirits and estimation of her own value were not such that she could be ever completely easy that he did not still regret Miss Crawford. This, indeed, he did not: he could not bemoan the circumstance which had brought him to his current happiness. Regret the events that had required the separation, and the disillusion that had embittered it, however, he could and did, most deeply; but his sentiments could be controuled, his discomfort made little of. It was Fanny whom he wished to reassure, and to protect from the recollections of the past, which must destroy her pleasure in their holiday. She had hda little enough protection at the time; she had observed all, and perhaps foreseen some of the monstrous end, without one person in whom she could truly confide, without one who might heed the warnings it was in her power to give.
He knew that Mrs. Yates's kind efforts to bring her out and make much of her in society were as likely to overwhelm Fanny as gratify her. Julia's dissatisfaction with the inferior minds about her had not been so great as to give her any lasting disgust for the pleasures of fashionable society, but these would not do for Fanny: her tastes ran differently, and he saw that she would be quickly run into the ground with exhaustion if he did not step in and take a hand.
He lay himself out to procure for her every enjoyment which he thought would truly be to her taste, and to moderate every evil of excess which must reduce her pleasure. He had acquaintance in town who, though they were not of the dashing sort that formed the main part of Julia's society, had the mind and manners which must recommend them wherever good understanding, good nature and good principles were appreciated, and among these Edmund soon had the joy of seeing Fanny happily settled as a valued friend. She dined, explored, and attended quite as many plays and concerts as her heart could desire; if that grateful heart could be capable of complaint, it repined only in that those they had left in Mansfield were absent.
For himself, Edmund did not expect so much; he considered it his duty to be much with Mr. Yates, who was possessed of a touching desire to be led by him. He did not anticipate any unusual pleasure from the association, but when he had satisfied himself as to Fanny's contentment, and had the time to consider how he was situated for his own amusement, he was pleased to discover the prospect not as gloomy as he had foreseen. To be sure, his brother-in-law could afford no very stimulating company; despite the great improvement in feeling and opinion that genuine attachment to Julia and respect for Sir Thomas had effected in Mr. Yates, marriage had not the power to increase his natural abilities. His newfound steadiness saved him from being a fool, but it could not make him clever.
Yet his solicitude for their comfort, and his very kind attentions to Fanny in particular, could not be endear Edmund to him, and his opinion was further elevated by his finding that Mr. Yates's acquaintance, with whom he necessarily had much intercourse, was not as harmful as he had previously supposed it to be. It was negligible enough, true, but Mrs. Yates's greater judgement, Mr. Yates's willingness to be directed by her, and the chastening reminder of the past that hung over both, had rid his acquaintance of the seriously objectionable, and gathered around him men who more often than not had quite as much sense as fashion -- men without brilliance, but not entirely wanting in substance; who, in their respectability, were, if not exactly remarkable for their uncommon integrity, the more fitted to improve Mr. Yates by it, in being not too high an example for him to imitate.
They spent a large part of their days at his club, a respectable establishment of some age, which provided a handsome enough repast and sufficiently unexceptionable company, along with the elegance that drew Mr. Yates's fancy, as to make it a very tolerable retreat for Edmund. Fanny was engaged with her friends of an afternoon, and he was passing the time there, when, looking for a moment away from his newspaper, his unconcerned glance caught upon Henry Crawford.
Comprehension was not at first possible. Overpowered by the shock of recognition, he knew not how he looked, or even what he thought, or how he felt: astonishment, overwhelming astonishment, mastered all else. He must have startled, however, for Crawford's eyes, which had been directed elsewhere, were drawn to his side of the room, as if by movement, and met Edmund's own.
Amazement had been succeeded rapidly by doubt, indignation, embarrassment admixed, and, peculiarly set apart from all these, an acute sense of loss, a pang of regret which he could not be sure was not shewn upon his face. In his agitation, Edmund had little attention to spare to discern Crawford's reaction; he could but distantly note that the same astonishment had overspread Crawford's features, and he was utterly incapable to make sense of the look that followed, in his haste to leave. He rose, commanded himself enough to bow, and, scarcely staying long enough in his flight to see Crawford's awkward return, took his leave, with a mind and heart in such disorder as they had not experienced since he had last seen the Crawfords.
A long walk was necessary to calm them sufficiently as to make thought possible. The possibility of stumbling upon either Henry or Mary Crawford in town had not been totally unforeseen: Edmund and Fanny had both, in mutual, silent agreement, understood that a great part of their reluctance to visit London was their knowing that the Crawfords were still at large there. Yet the two families moved now in such different circles that it were safe to presume that only an excessive anxiety could suppose it at all likely that they should ever meet by mischance; and Edmund had taken care to leave nothing to fate, studiously avoiding any place that Mr. and Miss Crawford were known to frequent, however much this may have curtailed his ease of movement in town. That he had encountered Crawford in such a secure haven as he had believed the club to be spoke much of the whimsies of fate, which would work mischievously against man however he strived to attain his object -- or, perhaps, spoke more of the perfidy of Mr. Yates.
To banish the painful recollections of the past that the chance meeting had awoken, or to reason away the inexplicable sensation, very much like grief, that now dogged him, was beyond Edmund's ability; he could, however, question Mr. Yates as to any prior knowledge he may have had of Crawford's being a patron of his club, and this he did.
Mr. Yates listened to his account of the meeting with an increasingly pale horror, and he scarcely allowed Edmund to finish before bursting out that "he had had no notion -- would not submit to be in such close quarters with a man who had so injured his wife's family if he had known -- was persuaded that Crawford could not have been long a member, however, for it was not conceivable that he could frequent the club for any time, and Mr. Yates not know -- and he had not known, was most excessively, most grievously shocked, could not be more concerned."
His sincerity was overflowing, and impossible to doubt; and a few more questions secured Edmund in the conviction that Julia, too, knew nothing of the matter: an article of some considerable anxiety to him, since the dreadful possibility of her involvement had first struck him. There was nothing more, then, but to require Mr. Yates to promise not to impart the knowledge of the encounter to any one, and to listen to his assurances that he should certainly do some thing about Crawford; a man of his reputation could not be allowed to associate with right-thinking people; his friends would be appalled to learn of the serpent they had been harbouring in their bosom.
With all the patience Edmund could summon up, which he believed Mr. Yates by his good intentions and genuine solicitude to deserve, he could not hear much of this before fleeing. He could not understand his own feelings -- or rather, knew them too well to be willing to acknowledge their nature. To hear the censure of such a man as Crawford, however justified and correct, by such a man as Yates, was unendurable; and Edmund's consciousness that his feelings did not unite with his mind in repudiating Crawford, as much as they ought, did not improve his forbearance.
The intensity of the shame which Crawford, in his thoughtlessness compounding Maria's folly, had brought upon the family, was by no means reduced by the influence of time, at least in Edmund's thoughts, if not in the world, which was as ever too quick to forgive a man of easy manners and independent fortune. Anger at his unforgivable conduct, condemnation of the duplicity and ultimate weakness of his character, disappointment that he should not have borne out Edmund's belief in his value, were all still present, rekindled to vivid life by seeing him again. Yet he could not prevent himself from experiencing a too-violent regret for the man Crawford should have been, and the man he had been, when they were friends.
At the time, Edmund's more general distress at the breaking off of all relations between the two families had been sunk in the particular anguish of the revelation of Mary Crawford's true character, but he was able now to acknowledge that he had suffered nearly as much from the loss of Crawford's friendship, as from the destruction of his hopes of marrying his sister. Edmund's attachment to his home and family had never allowed for his making any extraordinarily close friends outside of his family circle, and Henry Crawford had been the one of the few intimate friends of his adulthood. His manners, understanding and disposition had all recommended him to Edmund peculiarly, by their excellence, and their possessing a liveliness that his own nature did not know; but he had also been attracted by Crawford's less respectable qualities -- his carelessness, almost his neglect, of decorum; his levity on subjects that were not generally treated of with any thing less than reverence; his contradictory attachment to, and simultaneous laughing disdain of, the worldly ideals which had formed the better part of his upbringing.
These were things of which Edmund could not approve, but whose appeal he could not honestly deny to himself: whilst he might denounce them, and wish Crawford more serious, and possessed of a greater respect of principle, a greater attachment to the notions of propriety, than he did, he could not help being engaged by the charm that the intelligence and benevolent feeling in Crawford's character gave his light-hearted approach to every thing.
He regretted, therefore, what he knew he should not; was inclined to be more lenient in feeling, if not in thought and speech, than Crawford merited; and the result was, that he was now thrown into the gravest turmoil: wishing he had not seen Crawford again, and dreading a repeat of the incident; yet reawakened by it to a strong sense of sorrow, of mourning for their past intimacy, that could not but rouse in him a longing for the resurrection of their friendship, and make another encounter some thing to be desired.
He could do little to do away with these sentiments, but resolve to govern his thoughts as much as may be, and remind himself always of Crawford's very great wrongdoing -- which, though arguably no graver than Edmund's own sister's, unlike hers, was gone unpunished: he was still received by society, he could still enjoy the amusements which his manners, person and fortune made possible to him, while Maria remained cloistered in the countryside, in retirement which must be most hateful to her feelings, with no one other than an overfond aunt to lighten her solitude. This, to an affectionate brother, was a reflexion to lend weight to all the considerations which must prejudice him against Crawford; though it could not conquer his feelings, it calmed them, and he found himself sufficiently composed to answer the ladies' inquiries after his afternoon sooner than he could have imagined an hour ago.
One thing indeed he was resolved upon: Fanny should know nothing of this. She should receive not the slightest notion that Crawford were so near; he should remain as far from her thoughts as he had been from Edmund's, previous to their meeting, for any thing else would inevitably mean the total ruin of her holiday, and that Edmund could not bear for Fanny; her life had been wanting enough in the sort of pleasure she now tasted, not for it to be impaired by agitating reminders of the past. Till this moment, he had ever been wholly open to her; concealment was as distasteful to his feelings as it was contrary to his principles, but he had no choice.
He soon had reason enough to learn to hate concealment, by an imposed familiarity with it. Despite Mr. Yates's assurances, Edmund went no more to his club, but his vigilance was defeated once again, by what seemed on the face of it to be an accident.
He was alone, come to the shops on an errand for Fanny, when he sighted Crawford. This time Edmund was better prepared to see and be seen; the surprize and distress which the occasion could not but inspire in him were governable, and he bowed to Crawford with decent composure, and none of the confusion of his wits which had so put him out upon their first, unlooked for encounter.
He was resolved not to be so agitated by Crawford's presence as to be diverted from his usual course; and, so far from fleeing, he turned away to occupy himself with gazing at a shop window with determination, intending to complete his errand as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, and to be as little concerned by this seeing Crawford again as his self-command could assure. He had no notion whilst making this resolution, however, that Crawford might attempt to address him, and all his plans for an irreproachable equanimity were thrown into disarray when he was interrupted in his reflexions by that familiar voice, speaking his name with an awkard insistence.
He turned: Crawford stood just by him. His countenance spoke his consciousness of the irregularity of the situation, but also his determination to persist; and though his face fell, his determination did not waver at the very great shock and displeasure Edmund knew must be marking his own countenance.
"I can make no excuse for myself," said Crawford; "to apologise would be merely to aggravate the offence. However, I have had occasion to know the goodness of your nature; if any man could forgive -- nay, stay, hear me, I beg you will hear me."
Edmund was hard put to it to make any reply; strong terms of indignation and reproof sprang immediately to his lips, and were carried away again by others still stronger in such hasty profusion, that it was impossible to make of them an ordered answer. Finally he contrived to compose himself; in a harsh, stern, distant voice, unlike any he had ever used before in his life, he said,
"I had not conceived, sir, that given all that has passed between our families, given -- what I shall not mention, for you know it well yourself -- that it should be possible for you to think it appropriate to address me. But you can not be unaware of what my sentiments must be; I will not speak to no point. You will be so good as to refrain from detaining me further."
"You are angry," cried Crawford. "You have the right of it -- you will think me a fool -- in truth, I had not expected any thing less -- but I beg you will allow me half an hour -- five-and-twenty minutes. I undertake to take up no more of your time. I give you my word, if indeed (smiling without gaiety) you do not think it entirely without worth. If I may summon upon the memory of our friendship -- I pray you to allow me to speak with you awhile, for the sake of what we may have been to each other, if not for my criminal madness."
This last, spoke very low, did as much as Crawford's obvious distraction and hurried manner of speech to persuade Edmund of his genuine feeling. What weight this ought to have with Edmund was a more difficult matter to ascertain: he could not but be struck with pity at seeing Crawford so agitated, who was usually so composed, so apparently unmoved by any serious emotion; but he was no less incensed for that. He could not tell which, pity or anger, were more commendable, or more to be censured. He paused, undecided, and Crawford, seeing him hesitate, perhaps soften, said,
"You owe me nothing, I know; you are under no obligation towards me; I can but trust to your charity. My lodgings are in -- " he named a street in a fashionable part of town. "If you would consent to call tomorrow, it would give me -- I can not say pleasure, for that implies a shallowness of which my feelings do not partake, but I would be, more than ever, very gratefully in your debt."
"Crawford," said Edmund, then paused with surprize: he had not known himself that he meant to speak until the sound of his own voice reached his ears. He attempted to moderate his manner, but it was still far too gentle when he went on, almost against his will, "Surely it would be better to let it pass. There could be no good in reviving the past; there can be no explanation that could justify all that has passed between our two families. What purpose could such an interview achieve?"
Crawford gazed at him with a wild look, shocking in its violent unhappiness.
"Peace," he replied. "Peace, perhaps. But (collecting himself) I have kept you too long. Good day, sir."
The confusion of feelings into which Edmund was thrown by this extraordinary exchange can be imagined. Pity predominated -- compassion for the affliction which Edmund had discerned in Crawford's countenance whilst he spoke, and which had strikingly altered his features, not for the worse, though the change was but fleeting, and succeeded almost at once by a decorous composure. However well deserved any such affliction, Edmund could not see any friend, with whom he had formerly been on such intimate terms, suffer, without being moved; and Crawford had always had more influence over his mind, by his powers of pleasing and lively abilities, than he had ever merited by any concrete proof of his good character.
This was a consideration indeed. He hoped he should never be led by his feelings to err in his judgement, but there was a danger that he should be too indulgent to Crawford, too willing to accept his explanations, and to soften the gravity of his crime. Edmund could not be preserved from doubt, by the consciousness of being guiltless on this account; if his history with the family were to be a guide for his future conduct, he could hold out little hope that he should be as just to either of the Crawfords, as they deserved.
He considered, doubted, struggled; but when he was returned home he was still yet to come to a decision, and could only resolve to allow his thoughts mature over the night, and hope that greater certainty might arrive with the dawn of the next day. What made his situation still more fraught, was what he perceived to be the necessity of practising secrecy; he must needs hide his preoccupation from the others. He could see no pressing need for them to learn of Crawford's importunity, and many reasons for his meeting Crawford to remain concealed; but ingrained as the habits of openness were in him, the effort was not easy. Far worse than the anxiety that he should be detected, however, was the feeling that he was behaving with a lack of candour towards Fanny -- Fanny, whose claims on him were above that of any other creature in the world; who had never merited any thing from him but the fullest consideration and openness. Any secrecy from her was hateful; too often to tell he was on the brink of telling her all, but self-doubt, and the fear of giving her unnecessary pain, of disturbing her tranquility, restrained him.
The next morning saw his doubt not at all diminished, but almost without comprehending the import of his actions -- without allowing himself to comprehend -- he found he had contrived to secure a morning's solitude to himself, and to ensure that the rest of the party were all otherwise engaged; he had set himself at liberty to do any thing he wished, without the others' knowledge; and before he had ascertained precisely what it was that he wished to do, he was come upon Crawford's lodgings, he was in the very street, he was at the door.
To turn back now were to display a foolish caprice: but he blushed at finding himself in the attempt to excuse his course to himself, and, resolving to waste no more time in rationalisation, he committed himself: he knocked.
The apartments into which he was shewn united refinement and comfort in the manner he would have expected from his knowledge of Crawford's tastes and habits; and the inevitable comparison with Maria's current residence, the vivid reminder of what she was sentenced to, so unparalleled by any thing equal in Crawford's life, reduced his confusion, and enabled him to reply to Crawford's greetings with tolerable coolness.
Crawford was as grave as the occasion warranted: no shocking levity here, no inappropriateness of manner further to pain Edmund. He was more reserved than Edmund had ever found him; the hurry of spirits Edmund had seen in him the day before had quite vanished, and was supplanted by a subdued composure, tinged with an awareness of the awkwardness of the circumstance, but not materially impaired by it. Edmund felt the kinder towards him for it; despite his address yesterday, which had shewn him apparently to feel all the disgrace and wretchedness which rightly should be attendant on his situation, he had feared some very shocking return of Crawford's old manner, some unimaginable lightness. He reminded himself, however, that Crawford had ever been skilled at taking on the tenor of the thoughts of those who surrounded him; wherever society led him, he would follow, not even so much from wickedness as from use; his sombre manner now was, perhaps, but a piece of his habitual hypocrisy.
"You will wonder why I pressed so urgently for this meeting," Crawford began almost at once, without regard to the usual civil nothings. "I can reassure you at once, that I have no intention of attempting to excuse my guilt. No account can expatiate it in the slighest degree, as you so rightly observed; to make the attempt -- to even consider it -- were an insult to your understanding, and mine. Yet I would wish to offer some explanation: not to defend myself, that is not possible, but to make you look more kindly upon -- to have you think less ill of me, than you have heretofore."
Edmund's instincts warred within him for a moment: compassion won, and he had the glad acquiescence of his conscience in following his inclination, in speaking candidly what he felt.
"That is not necessary, I assure you," he said, "truly, there is no longer any resentment on my side, and as you agree that no explanation can exonerate your past blame, I do not perceive how touching upon the subject further can serve any purpose; there can not be any thing but pain in reliving the circumstances which divided our families."
Crawford peered into his face, with surprize; Edmund could return his look with one of perfect honesty. In Crawford's own presence, speaking to him on terms of such civility, even familiarity, as he should never have imagined possible between them again, there was a tumult of feelings to be borne with, quite beyond Edmund's power either to controul or classify: but they did not include bitterness, and perhaps never had.
"You are too good," said Crawford, with feeling. "Still I will solicit your attention, if you would be so kind; and when I have done, perhaps, your forbearance will have better grounds than your own magnanimity."
Edmund assented; after looking awhile out the window, with a grave air of abstraction, that, Edmund thought, became him better than the playfulness that had been his customary manner when they were friends, Crawford began.
He said nothing that Edmund had not already known, or at least suspected: intent had never entered into his sin; it had all been folly; dangerous, wicked folly begun in vanity, furthered by thoughtlessness, and finished in selfishness, but folly unactuated by any evil motive. This much he had known, but his knowledge had been only based on hearsay and conjecture; it had not been accompanied, as it was now, by Crawford's manner: his evident distress, his many tender allusions to the past intimacy that had subsisted between their families, and, what served more to soften Edmund's feelings than any thing else, the clear remembrance of Fanny in every thing he said.
For all his faults, Crawford had never wanted for delicacy; he had correct instincts, if not the principles to strengthen them sufficiently to counteract the evil effects of his upbringing; and not once did he speak Fanny's name. Yet to Edmund, in whose thoughts she was ever present, and whose sentiments towards her were so like those Crawford had once professed, there seemed scarcely a sentence spoke in which the ghost of her presence was not felt. Crawford spoke not of her, but around her, with regret, admiration, and the tenderest concern; Edmund perceived that his attachment was still as strong as it had been at its height, and was the more affected by the total lack of bitterness -- nay, the positive eager friendliness, in Crawford's address towards him.
He was startled out of his reflexions by the awareness of an unwonted silence; in Edmund's distraction Crawford had approached him, was nearly upon the sopha upon which Edmund was sat, and was subjecting his countenance to careful scrutiny, as if wishing to discover his thoughts from what hints he could draw from his features.
"May I hope that my account has allowed you to think better of me?" Crawford said. "That I was blameable none can deny: but may I presume that I have persuaded you to think of me more a fool than a villain? And that if you should ever speak of Henry Crawford, to -- any one who may have once had an interest in the wretch's fate, you will allow him to have possessed the full complement of good intentions, to pave his road to perdition?"
He smiled then, a smile melancholy yet not entirely serious; truly sensible, yet mocking its own sensibility. This Edmund recollected of Crawford: if all things had been a jest to him, he had at least scarcely spared himself; he himself, was an object as worthy of ridicule as any one else, and he had been no less merciless in dealing it out.
Their faces were very close. "You may," said Edmund, scarcely knowing what he said; he knew what would come next, as if he were suddenly graced with the gift of premonition; he did not move. He felt his face shew less surprize than Crawford's own, when Crawford leaned forward and kissed him.
He spoke no more: in silence, he undressed; in silence, watched Crawford's face above him contort strangely, exactly as Maria must have perceived it; in silence came to his own climax -- a very complete silence, numbing thought, enfolding all. His recollection of the experience in later years was ever wrapt in that silence, though Crawford indeed had spoken: violent words, expressive of the deepest misery, the most wretched solitude and aimlessness, the most shocking world-weariness he had yet encountered, even in a man of the world. Yet he could not recall, if he would, what thoughts had crost his own mind throughout. He had with him all his powers of observation, and remembered vividly such details as the raw-skinned grooves in the flesh of Crawford's calves, left by his boots; the precise, stern arch of his collarbones; the unbecoming blotchy flush that had risen almost immediately in his face -- but what Edmund had thought of these he knew not himself. Perception seemed to have vanished utterly, and his mind then was as much of a mystery to himself, decades on, as a stranger's could be.
Familiarity, thought, self, made but a tardy return; much later, Edmund opened his eyes, within himself again. He must have slept, for the light was changed; it lay in thin bars upon the carpet, as fine as any of Julia's and a great deal finer than those in Edmund's residence, quite unknown. He could not at first recollect where he was, or how he had come to be there, but forgetfulness was brief: in a moment he had it all, laid out before him in painful clarity.
Consciousness -- horror -- the conviction of assured, of inevitable disaster. The full import of all that had passed crashed down upon him; he was powerless to support its weight, and sank beneath it for a time.
He emerged at the sound of Crawford's voice. In his distress, Edmund had not observed Crawford's presence: he had removed from the sopha, from which they had not progressed, some time during Edmund's sleep, and was seated by the window with the greatest composure. He had found the time to dress, and could have attended a private dinner party, or gone to the theatre, without disgrace.
"I am a fool," he said to Edmund, in a voice mingling irony and disgust in equal parts, but Edmund could not attend.
"O God, do not speak," he cried, in tones of bitter anguish. "Has Fanny's trust, has her unswerving belief, merited such usage from me? I, who promised to protect her, who resolved when we married that she had suffered the last she should know of neglect, and that she should never again know betrayal by those in whom she ought to be able to repose the fullest confidence -- what return have I made her, for her devotion? How have I used her?"
This outburst brought silence, though not peace; it must be sufficient; Edmund had no thought to spare for how it might affect Crawford. He lay wretched and dishevelled, scarcely able to shift a finger for himself, yet wholly beyond any help; lost alone in his private horror, and struggling to comprehend the hideous decisions before him: truth, and the shame, the reproach, the unimaginable suffering that must follow, if indeed he managed to make Fanny credit his account at all -- or concealment, and with it a deeper canker, a secret guilt that must inevitably destroy all their happiness. His prospects were altogether without hope: there was no course he could chuse, that would preserve Fanny from suffering from his treachery.
He had yet to give a thought to the wider world, to the possibility of exposure and its effects upon his family -- he had not even considered the influence on his career -- all of his thoughts were for Fanny, and every thought was frightful.
But his feelings could not continue at such a pitch indefinitely. In time his agony wore itself out into a temporary dullness, and with a deadened heart he found the strength to rise, and order himself in sufficient decency to avoid comment. Crawford was still seated in his chair by the window; he had not moved at all, seemed scarcely to have breathed.
In this brief cessation of keen feeling, it was possible for Edmund to think of him, and even to be moved for him with a sorrow quite apart from that which belonged to himself and to Fanny. How Crawford knew he could speak now, and receive an answer, Edmund could not tell: but Crawford had never wanted for discernment, and whether it was this that gave him his faultless sense of timing, or if luck played a larger part, made little difference as to the result.
"Edmund!" he cried, before Edmund was quite out of the room. "Edmund, a moment, pray."
Edmund paused and looked back, gazing at Crawford with such a fixed expression of immovable gravity, despite the confused state of his feelings, as might very well have daunted Crawford into silence, had he seen it. He did not look at Edmund, however.
"Do you ever speak of me?" he said.
Edmund caught his meaning at once. A week, even an hour earlier, he should have been ready to quarrel at the implication -- should have chided Crawford, that he could scarcely so distress his wife as to force reminiscences upon her, which were so clearly unwelcome, even had he the wish to revert to such painful memories -- but now he was too weary, too conscious of error, and too sad, too appallingly sad.
"You know we can not," he replied, without ceremony; Crawford's flinch gave him no pleasure.
"Then if you should wish -- " said Crawford. He spoke somewhat at random, appearing to pay little mind to what he said. "I should be happy to convey to Mary any last communication -- "
"There is no need," said Edmund. "I think we have settled every thing between us, you and I."
That drew him: Crawford turned towards Edmund with a look, in which surprize was succeeded rapidly by understanding; after a moment's silence, he bowed.
Edmund felt still his scrutiny upon his back as he walked down the street; he did not turn to look, but he could see nonetheless in his mind's eye the motionless figure by the window, watching, watching, until he was gone out of sight, and the crowd had swallowed him whole.