Mansfield park, p.12
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       Mansfield Park, p.12

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XII

  Sir Thomas was to return in November, and his eldest son had duties tocall him earlier home. The approach of September brought tidings of Mr.Bertram, first in a letter to the gamekeeper and then in a letterto Edmund; and by the end of August he arrived himself, to be gay,agreeable, and gallant again as occasion served, or Miss Crawforddemanded; to tell of races and Weymouth, and parties and friends, towhich she might have listened six weeks before with some interest, andaltogether to give her the fullest conviction, by the power of actualcomparison, of her preferring his younger brother.

  It was very vexatious, and she was heartily sorry for it; but so it was;and so far from now meaning to marry the elder, she did not even wantto attract him beyond what the simplest claims of conscious beautyrequired: his lengthened absence from Mansfield, without anything butpleasure in view, and his own will to consult, made it perfectly clearthat he did not care about her; and his indifference was so much morethan equalled by her own, that were he now to step forth the owner ofMansfield Park, the Sir Thomas complete, which he was to be in time, shedid not believe she could accept him.

  The season and duties which brought Mr. Bertram back to Mansfield tookMr. Crawford into Norfolk. Everingham could not do without him in thebeginning of September. He went for a fortnight--a fortnight of suchdullness to the Miss Bertrams as ought to have put them both on theirguard, and made even Julia admit, in her jealousy of her sister, theabsolute necessity of distrusting his attentions, and wishing him notto return; and a fortnight of sufficient leisure, in the intervals ofshooting and sleeping, to have convinced the gentleman that he oughtto keep longer away, had he been more in the habit of examining his ownmotives, and of reflecting to what the indulgence of his idle vanity wastending; but, thoughtless and selfish from prosperity and bad example,he would not look beyond the present moment. The sisters, handsome,clever, and encouraging, were an amusement to his sated mind; andfinding nothing in Norfolk to equal the social pleasures of Mansfield,he gladly returned to it at the time appointed, and was welcomed thitherquite as gladly by those whom he came to trifle with further.

  Maria, with only Mr. Rushworth to attend to her, and doomed to therepeated details of his day's sport, good or bad, his boast of his dogs,his jealousy of his neighbours, his doubts of their qualifications,and his zeal after poachers, subjects which will not find their way tofemale feelings without some talent on one side or some attachment onthe other, had missed Mr. Crawford grievously; and Julia, unengaged andunemployed, felt all the right of missing him much more. Each sisterbelieved herself the favourite. Julia might be justified in so doing bythe hints of Mrs. Grant, inclined to credit what she wished, and Mariaby the hints of Mr. Crawford himself. Everything returned into the samechannel as before his absence; his manners being to each so animated andagreeable as to lose no ground with either, and just stopping short ofthe consistence, the steadiness, the solicitude, and the warmth whichmight excite general notice.

  Fanny was the only one of the party who found anything to dislike; butsince the day at Sotherton, she could never see Mr. Crawford with eithersister without observation, and seldom without wonder or censure; andhad her confidence in her own judgment been equal to her exercise of itin every other respect, had she been sure that she was seeing clearly,and judging candidly, she would probably have made some importantcommunications to her usual confidant. As it was, however, she onlyhazarded a hint, and the hint was lost. "I am rather surprised," saidshe, "that Mr. Crawford should come back again so soon, after being hereso long before, full seven weeks; for I had understood he was sovery fond of change and moving about, that I thought something wouldcertainly occur, when he was once gone, to take him elsewhere. He isused to much gayer places than Mansfield."

  "It is to his credit," was Edmund's answer; "and I dare say it gives hissister pleasure. She does not like his unsettled habits."

  "What a favourite he is with my cousins!"

  "Yes, his manners to women are such as must please. Mrs. Grant, Ibelieve, suspects him of a preference for Julia; I have never seen muchsymptom of it, but I wish it may be so. He has no faults but what aserious attachment would remove."

  "If Miss Bertram were not engaged," said Fanny cautiously, "I couldsometimes almost think that he admired her more than Julia."

  "Which is, perhaps, more in favour of his liking Julia best, than you,Fanny, may be aware; for I believe it often happens that a man, beforehe has quite made up his own mind, will distinguish the sister orintimate friend of the woman he is really thinking of more than thewoman herself. Crawford has too much sense to stay here if he foundhimself in any danger from Maria; and I am not at all afraid for her,after such a proof as she has given that her feelings are not strong."

  Fanny supposed she must have been mistaken, and meant to thinkdifferently in future; but with all that submission to Edmund coulddo, and all the help of the coinciding looks and hints which sheoccasionally noticed in some of the others, and which seemed to say thatJulia was Mr. Crawford's choice, she knew not always what to think. Shewas privy, one evening, to the hopes of her aunt Norris on the subject,as well as to her feelings, and the feelings of Mrs. Rushworth, on apoint of some similarity, and could not help wondering as she listened;and glad would she have been not to be obliged to listen, for it waswhile all the other young people were dancing, and she sitting,most unwillingly, among the chaperons at the fire, longing for there-entrance of her elder cousin, on whom all her own hopes of a partnerthen depended. It was Fanny's first ball, though without the preparationor splendour of many a young lady's first ball, being the thought onlyof the afternoon, built on the late acquisition of a violin player inthe servants' hall, and the possibility of raising five couple withthe help of Mrs. Grant and a new intimate friend of Mr. Bertram's justarrived on a visit. It had, however, been a very happy one to Fannythrough four dances, and she was quite grieved to be losing even aquarter of an hour. While waiting and wishing, looking now atthe dancers and now at the door, this dialogue between the twoabove-mentioned ladies was forced on her--

  "I think, ma'am," said Mrs. Norris, her eyes directed towards Mr.Rushworth and Maria, who were partners for the second time, "we shallsee some happy faces again now."

  "Yes, ma'am, indeed," replied the other, with a stately simper, "therewill be some satisfaction in looking on _now_, and I think it was rathera pity they should have been obliged to part. Young folks in theirsituation should be excused complying with the common forms. I wonder myson did not propose it."

  "I dare say he did, ma'am. Mr. Rushworth is never remiss. But dear Mariahas such a strict sense of propriety, so much of that true delicacywhich one seldom meets with nowadays, Mrs. Rushworth--that wish ofavoiding particularity! Dear ma'am, only look at her face at thismoment; how different from what it was the two last dances!"

  Miss Bertram did indeed look happy, her eyes were sparkling withpleasure, and she was speaking with great animation, for Julia and herpartner, Mr. Crawford, were close to her; they were all in a clustertogether. How she had looked before, Fanny could not recollect, for shehad been dancing with Edmund herself, and had not thought about her.

  Mrs. Norris continued, "It is quite delightful, ma'am, to see youngpeople so properly happy, so well suited, and so much the thing! Icannot but think of dear Sir Thomas's delight. And what do you say,ma'am, to the chance of another match? Mr. Rushworth has set a goodexample, and such things are very catching."

  Mrs. Rushworth, who saw nothing but her son, was quite at a loss.

  "The couple above, ma'am. Do you see no symptoms there?"

  "Oh dear! Miss Julia and Mr. Crawford. Yes, indeed, a very pretty match.What is his property?"

  "Four thousand a year."

  "Very well. Those who have not more must be satisfied with what theyhave. Four thousand a year is a pretty estate, and he seems a verygenteel, steady young man, so I hope Miss Julia will be very happy."

  "It is not a settled thing, ma'am, yet. We only speak of it amongfriends. But I
have very little doubt it _will_ be. He is growingextremely particular in his attentions."

  Fanny could listen no farther. Listening and wondering were allsuspended for a time, for Mr. Bertram was in the room again; and thoughfeeling it would be a great honour to be asked by him, she thought itmust happen. He came towards their little circle; but instead of askingher to dance, drew a chair near her, and gave her an account of thepresent state of a sick horse, and the opinion of the groom, fromwhom he had just parted. Fanny found that it was not to be, and in themodesty of her nature immediately felt that she had been unreasonablein expecting it. When he had told of his horse, he took a newspaper fromthe table, and looking over it, said in a languid way, "If you want todance, Fanny, I will stand up with you." With more than equal civilitythe offer was declined; she did not wish to dance. "I am glad of it,"said he, in a much brisker tone, and throwing down the newspaper again,"for I am tired to death. I only wonder how the good people can keepit up so long. They had need be _all_ in love, to find any amusement insuch folly; and so they are, I fancy. If you look at them you may seethey are so many couple of lovers--all but Yates and Mrs. Grant--and,between ourselves, she, poor woman, must want a lover as much as any oneof them. A desperate dull life hers must be with the doctor," makinga sly face as he spoke towards the chair of the latter, who proving,however, to be close at his elbow, made so instantaneous a change ofexpression and subject necessary, as Fanny, in spite of everything,could hardly help laughing at. "A strange business this in America, Dr.Grant! What is your opinion? I always come to you to know what I am tothink of public matters."

  "My dear Tom," cried his aunt soon afterwards, "as you are not dancing,I dare say you will have no objection to join us in a rubber; shallyou?" Then leaving her seat, and coming to him to enforce the proposal,added in a whisper, "We want to make a table for Mrs. Rushworth, youknow. Your mother is quite anxious about it, but cannot very well sparetime to sit down herself, because of her fringe. Now, you and I and Dr.Grant will just do; and though _we_ play but half-crowns, you know, youmay bet half-guineas with _him_."

  "I should be most happy," replied he aloud, and jumping up withalacrity, "it would give me the greatest pleasure; but that I amthis moment going to dance." Come, Fanny, taking her hand, "do not bedawdling any longer, or the dance will be over."

  Fanny was led off very willingly, though it was impossible for her tofeel much gratitude towards her cousin, or distinguish, as he certainlydid, between the selfishness of another person and his own.

  "A pretty modest request upon my word," he indignantly exclaimed as theywalked away. "To want to nail me to a card-table for the next two hourswith herself and Dr. Grant, who are always quarrelling, and that pokingold woman, who knows no more of whist than of algebra. I wish my goodaunt would be a little less busy! And to ask me in such a way too!without ceremony, before them all, so as to leave me no possibilityof refusing. _That_ is what I dislike most particularly. It raises myspleen more than anything, to have the pretence of being asked, ofbeing given a choice, and at the same time addressed in such a way asto oblige one to do the very thing, whatever it be! If I had not luckilythought of standing up with you I could not have got out of it. It isa great deal too bad. But when my aunt has got a fancy in her head,nothing can stop her."

 
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