It’s our anniversary, and we’re in the mood to celebrate! Throughout February, we’re commemorating the success of Austen Variations‘ first year by dropping in on some of our favorite Austen couples on their anniversaries. We started with the Darcys and the Bingleys on the 2nd. Today, we’re visiting the Fanny and Edmund from Mansfield Park. I wonder how they’re doing after twelve months together. Does connubial bliss live on, or is the honeymoon definitely over?
As you see, the Cajun Cheesehead drew Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price Bertram from MANSFIELD PARK. I’m the lone male in this merry group of troublemakers, and I’ve got a slightly different take on such things as anniversaries. Besides, my muse’s wicked sense of humor must have her share of the conversation.
Read on. But you have been warned.
The morning sun had been up several hours when Tom Bertram, eldest son and heir of Sir Thomas Bertram, Bart., of Mansfield Park, Northampton, rode up to the structure near Thornton Lacey that served as a stable and barn. A boy took the reins of Tom’s horse after the rider dismounted, and the man made his way into the parsonage by the kitchen door. Tom preferred to use this informal entrance to his brother’s house, and being an almost daily visitor, his appearance came as no surprise to those within.
“Good morning, Cathy!” he exclaimed as the maid approached to take is hat and coat. “Are my brother and sister in the dining room?”
“No, sir.” The young maid seemed to be excessively diverted. “But the breakfast is laid out. Will you be wantin’ coffee, sir?”
“Please.” Sir Thomas had keenness for coffee in the morning, given his time in the West Indies. His preference for the beverage extended to his sons, so the baronet saw to it that Thornton Lacey never lacked for beans. “Is everyone well, Cathy?”
Now the maid actually giggled. “Oh, yes, sir!” At that, her face a bright red, she dashed for the front hall with his outerwear.
Tom stood in the doorway out of the kitchen, puzzled by the odd behavior of Edmund’s maid. Since sobering up after his near-death two years before, he had thought he had seen the last of strange conduct. With a shrug—Who among us truly understand the ways of servants, he decided—he filled a plate and sat down at the dining table.
Minutes later, a now-composed Cathy poured for Tom and the Reverend Edmund Bertram came into the room. Edmund was quite disheveled, which alarmed Tom. In the past, it was always the incorrigible Tom who appeared as something the cat drug in, not the fastidious Edmund.
“Edmund!” cried Tom. “Are you well, brother?”
“Never better, Tom. Good morning,” Edmund said in a distracted manner. “Coffee please, Cathy.”
“Of course, sir.” The maid was clearly biting her lip. “Will the Mistress be down?”
“Err… no. Send up a plate, please. What do we have?”
“Some chicken, ragout, and potatoes from last night,” she reported as she poured. “Toast and scones.”
Edmund ran a hand through his hair. “A bit of the chicken and potatoes, please, and toast. Bring her some of those preserves she fancies, the, ah…”
“Right. And tea! Bring tea, please.”
“Of course, sir.” Cathy giggled again as she left the dining room.
Tom grew alarmed. Fanny is still abed? Fanny is always up in the mornings! It was one of the reasons he came often for breakfast. He could always count on good food and lovely company at Thornton Lacey. Breakfast at Mansfield Park was anything but: Mother keeping to her room, Cousin Susan Price attending Mother, and Father nose-deep into his newspaper. His brother and sister had become two of his favorite people in the world, especially first thing in the morning.
Indeed, kind, caring, loyal, and loving Fanny Price Bertram was the sister Tom always imagined. Julia was spoiled and selfish, and Maria was ill-tempered and immoral. Tom was delighted that Fanny married Edmund, for they would spend the rest of their days near Mansfield. But as much as he respected and trusted Edmund, Tom was still a bit protective of his gentle cousin.
Meanwhile, Edmund had returned from filling his plate. “So how are things at Mansfield, Tom?” his brother offered without any real interest.
Good God, Edmund hasn’t shaved! Tom realized with horror. Matters here must be terrible!
“Edmund, enough of your prevaricating!” Tom demanded. “What is the matter? Has anything happened to Fanny—AHH!” Something had leapt onto his right leg.
Tom looked down to see a furry, flat, snorting face, gazing at him hopefully, his tongue lolling out.
Edmund lost not a bite as he said to his wife’s Pug, “Snuck out of the room behind me, Pugsly? Kindly climb down from Tom’s leg, will you?” The scolding was unpersuasive.
Tom slipped Pugsly a piece of his toast. The dog wolfed down the offering directly, earning an affectionate rub of the head. “Ha, ha! Pugsly knows ole Tom is good for a bit of treat, eh, old man?”
Pugsly snorted in return.
Edmund looked on disapprovingly. “You spoil him, you know.”
“And Fanny does not?” Tom’s voice hardened. “Brother, tell me the truth. Is Fanny well?”
Strangely enough, Edmund grinned. “Very well, I assure you.”
“I am glad to hear it. Forgive me my rudeness, but why does she remain upstairs? You must admit that this is unusual behavior for my sister.”
Edmund coughed into his napkin, and Tom though he caught him smiling again. “You do recall what today is.”
“Friday. What of it?”
Edmund just raised an eyebrow.
Tom grew frustrated. “Apparently I have forgotten something, but I must beg you to forgive me. As you know, the Yates are visiting, and that is enough to drive anyone to distraction!”
“I thought our brother Yates was your friend.”
Tom waved him off. “That was when I was still a drunkard. The question remains.”
Edmund leaned back in his chair, a self-satisfied smirk on his face. His unusual countenance was slightly unnerving. “I suppose it falls to me to recall such a momentous occasion. One year ago today, Fanny made me the happiest of men.”
“Oh.” Tom tilted his head. “Really? One year? Has it been that long—or short? I cannot tell.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Now it was Tom who was amused. “If you recall, Father and I were aware of Fanny’s feelings for you well before you recognized them yourself! I believe we gave you a slight push in her direction.”
“A slight push—hah!” Edmund chuckled. “Father dragged me into his study and demanded to know if I had lost my senses or if I was simply blind as a bat.” He looked up, smiled, and sighed. “I tried to tell you both I was only waiting for the right moment to propose—”
“And Father commanded that within a fortnight you either make Fanny an offer or release her,” Tom finished the tale. “You two have been friends for so long, it is hard to remember when you were not together.” He frowned. “Even when those blasted Crawfords were here—”
“Please do not use that kind of language, Tom.”
“I apologize, Edmund, not just for my rude choice of words, but for bringing up those . . . persons.” Tom was still angry with Henry Crawford and his sister Maria for the scandal they caused. “Especially on such a day.”
Tom’s black face turned curious. “But, is there something about marriage of which I am unaware? Is there a tradition that wives spend their wedding anniversary in their apartments? If so, our Mother takes it quite to the extreme.”
Edmund started at his brother, his face growing redder by the moment. He then doubled over in laughter. Tom was completely nonplussed by his brother’s reaction. It took a full minute before Edmund could gather control of himself.
“T-Tom,” he chuckled, “it is not like that at all! At least, I-I do not think so!” At that he was lost in laughter again.
The whole thing was proving irksome to Tom. “I kindly request you cease taking amusement at my ignorance, brother!” he demanded.
Just then, Cathy reentered the dining room. “Begging your pardon, sirs. Mrs. Bertram sends her regards to you, Mr. Bertram, and requests the Master’s immediate attendance above stairs.” The maid could barely keep a straight face.
That sobered Edmund. “Indeed?”
“Y-yes, sir. S-she said it was a matter of s-some importance—” She did not finish; she threw her apron over her face and fled into the kitchen.
Tom was shocked silent by the extraordinary behavior. For his part, Edmund drew a long breath, smiled, and rose to his feet. “If you will excuse me, Tom. Enjoy your breakfast. I believe we are to dinner at Mansfield today. We will see you then.” He made to leave.
“Wait, Edmund,” Tom cried. “You cannot leave it like this! What is going on?”
Edmund turned with a grin. “When you are married, you will know, if you are fortunate. But it would be well to remember our grandfather’s observation about shy, reserved ladies. That their gratefulness for a gentleman’s attention and affection can be… astonishing.”
He paused to give Tom a moment to recall, and then he winked and walked out the room, Pugsly trailing happily behind. Man’s and dog’s steps could be heard moving rapidly up the staircase.
It took Tom a full minute to comprehend both his brother’s words and actions. It took another five minutes for his face to return to a normal color.