Mansfield park, p.24
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Mansfield Park, p.24

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XXIV

  Henry Crawford had quite made up his mind by the next morning to giveanother fortnight to Mansfield, and having sent for his hunters, andwritten a few lines of explanation to the Admiral, he looked round athis sister as he sealed and threw the letter from him, and seeing thecoast clear of the rest of the family, said, with a smile, "And how doyou think I mean to amuse myself, Mary, on the days that I do not hunt?I am grown too old to go out more than three times a week; but I have aplan for the intermediate days, and what do you think it is?"

  "To walk and ride with me, to be sure."

  "Not exactly, though I shall be happy to do both, but _that_ would beexercise only to my body, and I must take care of my mind. Besides,_that_ would be all recreation and indulgence, without the wholesomealloy of labour, and I do not like to eat the bread of idleness. No, myplan is to make Fanny Price in love with me."

  "Fanny Price! Nonsense! No, no. You ought to be satisfied with her twocousins."

  "But I cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price, without making a smallhole in Fanny Price's heart. You do not seem properly aware of herclaims to notice. When we talked of her last night, you none of youseemed sensible of the wonderful improvement that has taken place in herlooks within the last six weeks. You see her every day, and therefore donot notice it; but I assure you she is quite a different creature fromwhat she was in the autumn. She was then merely a quiet, modest, notplain-looking girl, but she is now absolutely pretty. I used to thinkshe had neither complexion nor countenance; but in that soft skin ofhers, so frequently tinged with a blush as it was yesterday, there isdecided beauty; and from what I observed of her eyes and mouth, I donot despair of their being capable of expression enough when shehas anything to express. And then, her air, her manner, her _tout__ensemble_, is so indescribably improved! She must be grown two inches,at least, since October."

  "Phoo! phoo! This is only because there were no tall women to compareher with, and because she has got a new gown, and you never saw her sowell dressed before. She is just what she was in October, believe me.The truth is, that she was the only girl in company for you to notice,and you must have a somebody. I have always thought her pretty--notstrikingly pretty--but 'pretty enough,' as people say; a sort of beautythat grows on one. Her eyes should be darker, but she has a sweet smile;but as for this wonderful degree of improvement, I am sure it may allbe resolved into a better style of dress, and your having nobody else tolook at; and therefore, if you do set about a flirtation with her, younever will persuade me that it is in compliment to her beauty, or thatit proceeds from anything but your own idleness and folly."

  Her brother gave only a smile to this accusation, and soon afterwardssaid, "I do not quite know what to make of Miss Fanny. I do notunderstand her. I could not tell what she would be at yesterday. What isher character? Is she solemn? Is she queer? Is she prudish? Why did shedraw back and look so grave at me? I could hardly get her to speak. Inever was so long in company with a girl in my life, trying to entertainher, and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave onme! I must try to get the better of this. Her looks say, 'I will notlike you, I am determined not to like you'; and I say she shall."

  "Foolish fellow! And so this is her attraction after all! This it is,her not caring about you, which gives her such a soft skin, and makesher so much taller, and produces all these charms and graces! I dodesire that you will not be making her really unhappy; a _little_ love,perhaps, may animate and do her good, but I will not have you plungeher deep, for she is as good a little creature as ever lived, and has agreat deal of feeling."

  "It can be but for a fortnight," said Henry; "and if a fortnight cankill her, she must have a constitution which nothing could save. No, Iwill not do her any harm, dear little soul! only want her to look kindlyon me, to give me smiles as well as blushes, to keep a chair for me byherself wherever we are, and be all animation when I take it and talkto her; to think as I think, be interested in all my possessions andpleasures, try to keep me longer at Mansfield, and feel when I go awaythat she shall be never happy again. I want nothing more."

  "Moderation itself!" said Mary. "I can have no scruples now. Well, youwill have opportunities enough of endeavouring to recommend yourself,for we are a great deal together."

  And without attempting any farther remonstrance, she left Fanny toher fate, a fate which, had not Fanny's heart been guarded in a wayunsuspected by Miss Crawford, might have been a little harder than shedeserved; for although there doubtless are such unconquerable youngladies of eighteen (or one should not read about them) as are neverto be persuaded into love against their judgment by all that talent,manner, attention, and flattery can do, I have no inclination tobelieve Fanny one of them, or to think that with so much tendernessof disposition, and so much taste as belonged to her, she could haveescaped heart-whole from the courtship (though the courtship only ofa fortnight) of such a man as Crawford, in spite of there being someprevious ill opinion of him to be overcome, had not her affection beenengaged elsewhere. With all the security which love of another anddisesteem of him could give to the peace of mind he was attacking,his continued attentions--continued, but not obtrusive, and adaptingthemselves more and more to the gentleness and delicacy of hercharacter--obliged her very soon to dislike him less than formerly. Shehad by no means forgotten the past, and she thought as ill of him asever; but she felt his powers: he was entertaining; and his manners wereso improved, so polite, so seriously and blamelessly polite, that it wasimpossible not to be civil to him in return.

  A very few days were enough to effect this; and at the end of those fewdays, circumstances arose which had a tendency rather to forward hisviews of pleasing her, inasmuch as they gave her a degree of happinesswhich must dispose her to be pleased with everybody. William, herbrother, the so long absent and dearly loved brother, was in Englandagain. She had a letter from him herself, a few hurried happy lines,written as the ship came up Channel, and sent into Portsmouth withthe first boat that left the Antwerp at anchor in Spithead; and whenCrawford walked up with the newspaper in his hand, which he had hopedwould bring the first tidings, he found her trembling with joy over thisletter, and listening with a glowing, grateful countenance to the kindinvitation which her uncle was most collectedly dictating in reply.

  It was but the day before that Crawford had made himself thoroughlymaster of the subject, or had in fact become at all aware of her havingsuch a brother, or his being in such a ship, but the interest thenexcited had been very properly lively, determining him on his return totown to apply for information as to the probable period of the Antwerp'sreturn from the Mediterranean, etc.; and the good luck which attendedhis early examination of ship news the next morning seemed the reward ofhis ingenuity in finding out such a method of pleasing her, as well asof his dutiful attention to the Admiral, in having for many yearstaken in the paper esteemed to have the earliest naval intelligence. Heproved, however, to be too late. All those fine first feelings, of whichhe had hoped to be the exciter, were already given. But his intention,the kindness of his intention, was thankfully acknowledged: quitethankfully and warmly, for she was elevated beyond the common timidityof her mind by the flow of her love for William.

  This dear William would soon be amongst them. There could be no doubtof his obtaining leave of absence immediately, for he was still only amidshipman; and as his parents, from living on the spot, must alreadyhave seen him, and be seeing him perhaps daily, his direct holidaysmight with justice be instantly given to the sister, who had been hisbest correspondent through a period of seven years, and the uncle whohad done most for his support and advancement; and accordingly the replyto her reply, fixing a very early day for his arrival, came as soon aspossible; and scarcely ten days had passed since Fanny had been inthe agitation of her first dinner-visit, when she found herself in anagitation of a higher nature, watching in the hall, in the lobby, onthe stairs, for the first sound of the carriage which was to bring her abrother.

  It came happily wh
ile she was thus waiting; and there being neitherceremony nor fearfulness to delay the moment of meeting, she was withhim as he entered the house, and the first minutes of exquisite feelinghad no interruption and no witnesses, unless the servants chiefly intentupon opening the proper doors could be called such. This was exactlywhat Sir Thomas and Edmund had been separately conniving at, as eachproved to the other by the sympathetic alacrity with which they bothadvised Mrs. Norris's continuing where she was, instead of rushing outinto the hall as soon as the noises of the arrival reached them.

  William and Fanny soon shewed themselves; and Sir Thomas had thepleasure of receiving, in his protege, certainly a very different personfrom the one he had equipped seven years ago, but a young man of anopen, pleasant countenance, and frank, unstudied, but feeling andrespectful manners, and such as confirmed him his friend.

  It was long before Fanny could recover from the agitating happiness ofsuch an hour as was formed by the last thirty minutes of expectation,and the first of fruition; it was some time even before her happinesscould be said to make her happy, before the disappointment inseparablefrom the alteration of person had vanished, and she could see in him thesame William as before, and talk to him, as her heart had been yearningto do through many a past year. That time, however, did gradually come,forwarded by an affection on his side as warm as her own, and much lessencumbered by refinement or self-distrust. She was the first objectof his love, but it was a love which his stronger spirits, and boldertemper, made it as natural for him to express as to feel. On themorrow they were walking about together with true enjoyment, and everysucceeding morrow renewed a _tete-a-tete_ which Sir Thomas could not butobserve with complacency, even before Edmund had pointed it out to him.

  Excepting the moments of peculiar delight, which any marked orunlooked-for instance of Edmund's consideration of her in the last fewmonths had excited, Fanny had never known so much felicity in her life,as in this unchecked, equal, fearless intercourse with the brother andfriend who was opening all his heart to her, telling her all his hopesand fears, plans, and solicitudes respecting that long thought of,dearly earned, and justly valued blessing of promotion; who could giveher direct and minute information of the father and mother, brothers andsisters, of whom she very seldom heard; who was interested in all thecomforts and all the little hardships of her home at Mansfield; ready tothink of every member of that home as she directed, or differing onlyby a less scrupulous opinion, and more noisy abuse of their aunt Norris,and with whom (perhaps the dearest indulgence of the whole) all the eviland good of their earliest years could be gone over again, and everyformer united pain and pleasure retraced with the fondest recollection.An advantage this, a strengthener of love, in which even the conjugaltie is beneath the fraternal. Children of the same family, the sameblood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means ofenjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connexions can supply; andit must be by a long and unnatural estrangement, by a divorce whichno subsequent connexion can justify, if such precious remains of theearliest attachments are ever entirely outlived. Too often, alas! it isso. Fraternal love, sometimes almost everything, is at others worse thannothing. But with William and Fanny Price it was still a sentimentin all its prime and freshness, wounded by no opposition of interest,cooled by no separate attachment, and feeling the influence of time andabsence only in its increase.

  An affection so amiable was advancing each in the opinion of all who hadhearts to value anything good. Henry Crawford was as much struck withit as any. He honoured the warm-hearted, blunt fondness of the youngsailor, which led him to say, with his hands stretched towards Fanny'shead, "Do you know, I begin to like that queer fashion already, thoughwhen I first heard of such things being done in England, I couldnot believe it; and when Mrs. Brown, and the other women at theCommissioner's at Gibraltar, appeared in the same trim, I thought theywere mad; but Fanny can reconcile me to anything"; and saw, with livelyadmiration, the glow of Fanny's cheek, the brightness of her eye, thedeep interest, the absorbed attention, while her brother was describingany of the imminent hazards, or terrific scenes, which such a period atsea must supply.

  It was a picture which Henry Crawford had moral taste enough to value.Fanny's attractions increased--increased twofold; for the sensibilitywhich beautified her complexion and illumined her countenance was anattraction in itself. He was no longer in doubt of the capabilities ofher heart. She had feeling, genuine feeling. It would be something tobe loved by such a girl, to excite the first ardours of her youngunsophisticated mind! She interested him more than he had foreseen. Afortnight was not enough. His stay became indefinite.

  William was often called on by his uncle to be the talker. His recitalswere amusing in themselves to Sir Thomas, but the chief object inseeking them was to understand the reciter, to know the young man by hishistories; and he listened to his clear, simple, spirited detailswith full satisfaction, seeing in them the proof of good principles,professional knowledge, energy, courage, and cheerfulness, everythingthat could deserve or promise well. Young as he was, William had alreadyseen a great deal. He had been in the Mediterranean; in the West Indies;in the Mediterranean again; had been often taken on shore by the favourof his captain, and in the course of seven years had known every varietyof danger which sea and war together could offer. With such means inhis power he had a right to be listened to; and though Mrs. Norris couldfidget about the room, and disturb everybody in quest of two needlefulsof thread or a second-hand shirt button, in the midst of her nephew'saccount of a shipwreck or an engagement, everybody else was attentive;and even Lady Bertram could not hear of such horrors unmoved, orwithout sometimes lifting her eyes from her work to say, "Dear me! howdisagreeable! I wonder anybody can ever go to sea."

  To Henry Crawford they gave a different feeling. He longed to have beenat sea, and seen and done and suffered as much. His heart was warmed,his fancy fired, and he felt the highest respect for a lad who, beforehe was twenty, had gone through such bodily hardships and given suchproofs of mind. The glory of heroism, of usefulness, of exertion, ofendurance, made his own habits of selfish indulgence appear in shamefulcontrast; and he wished he had been a William Price, distinguishinghimself and working his way to fortune and consequence with so muchself-respect and happy ardour, instead of what he was!

  The wish was rather eager than lasting. He was roused from the reverieof retrospection and regret produced by it, by some inquiry from Edmundas to his plans for the next day's hunting; and he found it was as wellto be a man of fortune at once with horses and grooms at his command.In one respect it was better, as it gave him the means of conferring akindness where he wished to oblige. With spirits, courage, and curiosityup to anything, William expressed an inclination to hunt; and Crawfordcould mount him without the slightest inconvenience to himself, and withonly some scruples to obviate in Sir Thomas, who knew better than hisnephew the value of such a loan, and some alarms to reason away inFanny. She feared for William; by no means convinced by all that hecould relate of his own horsemanship in various countries, of thescrambling parties in which he had been engaged, the rough horses andmules he had ridden, or his many narrow escapes from dreadful falls,that he was at all equal to the management of a high-fed hunter in anEnglish fox-chase; nor till he returned safe and well, without accidentor discredit, could she be reconciled to the risk, or feel any of thatobligation to Mr. Crawford for lending the horse which he had fullyintended it should produce. When it was proved, however, to have doneWilliam no harm, she could allow it to be a kindness, and even rewardthe owner with a smile when the animal was one minute tendered to hisuse again; and the next, with the greatest cordiality, and in a mannernot to be resisted, made over to his use entirely so long as he remainedin Northamptonshire.

  [End volume one of this edition. Printed by T. and A. Constable, Printers to Her Majesty at the Edinburgh University Press]

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll