Mansfield park, p.25
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       Mansfield Park, p.25

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XXV

  The intercourse of the two families was at this period more nearlyrestored to what it had been in the autumn, than any member of theold intimacy had thought ever likely to be again. The return of HenryCrawford, and the arrival of William Price, had much to do with it,but much was still owing to Sir Thomas's more than toleration of theneighbourly attempts at the Parsonage. His mind, now disengaged fromthe cares which had pressed on him at first, was at leisure to findthe Grants and their young inmates really worth visiting; and thoughinfinitely above scheming or contriving for any the most advantageousmatrimonial establishment that could be among the apparent possibilitiesof any one most dear to him, and disdaining even as a littleness thebeing quick-sighted on such points, he could not avoid perceiving, ina grand and careless way, that Mr. Crawford was somewhat distinguishinghis niece--nor perhaps refrain (though unconsciously) from giving a morewilling assent to invitations on that account.

  His readiness, however, in agreeing to dine at the Parsonage, when thegeneral invitation was at last hazarded, after many debates and manydoubts as to whether it were worth while, "because Sir Thomas seemedso ill inclined, and Lady Bertram was so indolent!" proceeded fromgood-breeding and goodwill alone, and had nothing to do with Mr.Crawford, but as being one in an agreeable group: for it was in thecourse of that very visit that he first began to think that any one inthe habit of such idle observations _would_ _have_ _thought_ that Mr.Crawford was the admirer of Fanny Price.

  The meeting was generally felt to be a pleasant one, being composed in agood proportion of those who would talk and those who would listen;and the dinner itself was elegant and plentiful, according to the usualstyle of the Grants, and too much according to the usual habits ofall to raise any emotion except in Mrs. Norris, who could never beholdeither the wide table or the number of dishes on it with patience, andwho did always contrive to experience some evil from the passing of theservants behind her chair, and to bring away some fresh conviction ofits being impossible among so many dishes but that some must be cold.

  In the evening it was found, according to the predetermination of Mrs.Grant and her sister, that after making up the whist-table there wouldremain sufficient for a round game, and everybody being as perfectlycomplying and without a choice as on such occasions they always are,speculation was decided on almost as soon as whist; and Lady Bertramsoon found herself in the critical situation of being applied to for herown choice between the games, and being required either to draw a cardfor whist or not. She hesitated. Luckily Sir Thomas was at hand.

  "What shall I do, Sir Thomas? Whist and speculation; which will amuse memost?"

  Sir Thomas, after a moment's thought, recommended speculation. He wasa whist player himself, and perhaps might feel that it would not muchamuse him to have her for a partner.

  "Very well," was her ladyship's contented answer; "then speculation, ifyou please, Mrs. Grant. I know nothing about it, but Fanny must teachme."

  Here Fanny interposed, however, with anxious protestations of her ownequal ignorance; she had never played the game nor seen it played inher life; and Lady Bertram felt a moment's indecision again; but uponeverybody's assuring her that nothing could be so easy, that it was theeasiest game on the cards, and Henry Crawford's stepping forward with amost earnest request to be allowed to sit between her ladyship and MissPrice, and teach them both, it was so settled; and Sir Thomas, Mrs.Norris, and Dr. and Mrs. Grant being seated at the table of primeintellectual state and dignity, the remaining six, under Miss Crawford'sdirection, were arranged round the other. It was a fine arrangementfor Henry Crawford, who was close to Fanny, and with his hands full ofbusiness, having two persons' cards to manage as well as his own; forthough it was impossible for Fanny not to feel herself mistress of therules of the game in three minutes, he had yet to inspirit her play,sharpen her avarice, and harden her heart, which, especially in anycompetition with William, was a work of some difficulty; and as for LadyBertram, he must continue in charge of all her fame and fortune throughthe whole evening; and if quick enough to keep her from looking at hercards when the deal began, must direct her in whatever was to be donewith them to the end of it.

  He was in high spirits, doing everything with happy ease, and preeminentin all the lively turns, quick resources, and playful impudence thatcould do honour to the game; and the round table was altogether a verycomfortable contrast to the steady sobriety and orderly silence of theother.

  Twice had Sir Thomas inquired into the enjoyment and success of hislady, but in vain; no pause was long enough for the time his measuredmanner needed; and very little of her state could be known till Mrs.Grant was able, at the end of the first rubber, to go to her and pay hercompliments.

  "I hope your ladyship is pleased with the game."

  "Oh dear, yes! very entertaining indeed. A very odd game. I do not knowwhat it is all about. I am never to see my cards; and Mr. Crawford doesall the rest."

  "Bertram," said Crawford, some time afterwards, taking the opportunityof a little languor in the game, "I have never told you what happened tome yesterday in my ride home." They had been hunting together, and werein the midst of a good run, and at some distance from Mansfield, whenhis horse being found to have flung a shoe, Henry Crawford had beenobliged to give up, and make the best of his way back. "I told you Ilost my way after passing that old farmhouse with the yew-trees, becauseI can never bear to ask; but I have not told you that, with my usualluck--for I never do wrong without gaining by it--I found myself in duetime in the very place which I had a curiosity to see. I was suddenly,upon turning the corner of a steepish downy field, in the midst ofa retired little village between gently rising hills; a small streambefore me to be forded, a church standing on a sort of knoll to myright--which church was strikingly large and handsome for the place, andnot a gentleman or half a gentleman's house to be seen excepting one--tobe presumed the Parsonage--within a stone's throw of the said knoll andchurch. I found myself, in short, in Thornton Lacey."

  "It sounds like it," said Edmund; "but which way did you turn afterpassing Sewell's farm?"

  "I answer no such irrelevant and insidious questions; though were I toanswer all that you could put in the course of an hour, you would neverbe able to prove that it was _not_ Thornton Lacey--for such it certainlywas."

  "You inquired, then?"

  "No, I never inquire. But I _told_ a man mending a hedge that it wasThornton Lacey, and he agreed to it."

  "You have a good memory. I had forgotten having ever told you half somuch of the place."

  Thornton Lacey was the name of his impending living, as Miss Crawfordwell knew; and her interest in a negotiation for William Price's knaveincreased.

  "Well," continued Edmund, "and how did you like what you saw?"

  "Very much indeed. You are a lucky fellow. There will be work for fivesummers at least before the place is liveable."

  "No, no, not so bad as that. The farmyard must be moved, I grant you;but I am not aware of anything else. The house is by no means bad, andwhen the yard is removed, there may be a very tolerable approach to it."

  "The farmyard must be cleared away entirely, and planted up to shutout the blacksmith's shop. The house must be turned to front the eastinstead of the north--the entrance and principal rooms, I mean, must beon that side, where the view is really very pretty; I am sure it may bedone. And _there_ must be your approach, through what is at present thegarden. You must make a new garden at what is now the back of the house;which will be giving it the best aspect in the world, sloping to thesouth-east. The ground seems precisely formed for it. I rode fifty yardsup the lane, between the church and the house, in order to look aboutme; and saw how it might all be. Nothing can be easier. The meadowsbeyond what _will_ _be_ the garden, as well as what now _is_, sweepinground from the lane I stood in to the north-east, that is, to theprincipal road through the village, must be all laid together, ofcourse; very pretty meadows they are, finely sprinkled with timber. Theybelong to the living, I suppose;
if not, you must purchase them. Thenthe stream--something must be done with the stream; but I could notquite determine what. I had two or three ideas."

  "And I have two or three ideas also," said Edmund, "and one of them is,that very little of your plan for Thornton Lacey will ever be put inpractice. I must be satisfied with rather less ornament and beauty. Ithink the house and premises may be made comfortable, and given the airof a gentleman's residence, without any very heavy expense, and thatmust suffice me; and, I hope, may suffice all who care about me."

  Miss Crawford, a little suspicious and resentful of a certain tone ofvoice, and a certain half-look attending the last expression of hishope, made a hasty finish of her dealings with William Price; andsecuring his knave at an exorbitant rate, exclaimed, "There, I willstake my last like a woman of spirit. No cold prudence for me. I am notborn to sit still and do nothing. If I lose the game, it shall not befrom not striving for it."

  The game was hers, and only did not pay her for what she had givento secure it. Another deal proceeded, and Crawford began again aboutThornton Lacey.

  "My plan may not be the best possible: I had not many minutes to formit in; but you must do a good deal. The place deserves it, and youwill find yourself not satisfied with much less than it is capable of.(Excuse me, your ladyship must not see your cards. There, let them liejust before you.) The place deserves it, Bertram. You talk of giving itthe air of a gentleman's residence. _That_ will be done by the removalof the farmyard; for, independent of that terrible nuisance, I never sawa house of the kind which had in itself so much the air of agentleman's residence, so much the look of a something above a mereparsonage-house--above the expenditure of a few hundreds a year. It isnot a scrambling collection of low single rooms, with as many roofsas windows; it is not cramped into the vulgar compactness of a squarefarmhouse: it is a solid, roomy, mansion-like looking house, such asone might suppose a respectable old country family had lived in fromgeneration to generation, through two centuries at least, and were nowspending from two to three thousand a year in." Miss Crawford listened,and Edmund agreed to this. "The air of a gentleman's residence,therefore, you cannot but give it, if you do anything. But it is capableof much more. (Let me see, Mary; Lady Bertram bids a dozen for thatqueen; no, no, a dozen is more than it is worth. Lady Bertram does notbid a dozen. She will have nothing to say to it. Go on, go on.) By somesuch improvements as I have suggested (I do not really require you toproceed upon my plan, though, by the bye, I doubt anybody's striking outa better) you may give it a higher character. You may raise it intoa _place_. From being the mere gentleman's residence, it becomes, byjudicious improvement, the residence of a man of education, taste,modern manners, good connexions. All this may be stamped on it; and thathouse receive such an air as to make its owner be set down as thegreat landholder of the parish by every creature travelling the road;especially as there is no real squire's house to dispute the point--acircumstance, between ourselves, to enhance the value of such asituation in point of privilege and independence beyond all calculation._You_ think with me, I hope" (turning with a softened voice to Fanny)."Have you ever seen the place?"

  Fanny gave a quick negative, and tried to hide her interest in thesubject by an eager attention to her brother, who was driving as hard abargain, and imposing on her as much as he could; but Crawford pursuedwith "No, no, you must not part with the queen. You have bought her toodearly, and your brother does not offer half her value. No, no, sir,hands off, hands off. Your sister does not part with the queen. She isquite determined. The game will be yours," turning to her again; "itwill certainly be yours."

  "And Fanny had much rather it were William's," said Edmund, smiling ather. "Poor Fanny! not allowed to cheat herself as she wishes!"

  "Mr. Bertram," said Miss Crawford, a few minutes afterwards, "you knowHenry to be such a capital improver, that you cannot possibly engage inanything of the sort at Thornton Lacey without accepting his help. Onlythink how useful he was at Sotherton! Only think what grand things wereproduced there by our all going with him one hot day in August to driveabout the grounds, and see his genius take fire. There we went, andthere we came home again; and what was done there is not to be told!"

  Fanny's eyes were turned on Crawford for a moment with an expressionmore than grave--even reproachful; but on catching his, were instantlywithdrawn. With something of consciousness he shook his head at hissister, and laughingly replied, "I cannot say there was much done atSotherton; but it was a hot day, and we were all walking after eachother, and bewildered." As soon as a general buzz gave him shelter, headded, in a low voice, directed solely at Fanny, "I should be sorry tohave my powers of _planning_ judged of by the day at Sotherton. I seethings very differently now. Do not think of me as I appeared then."

  Sotherton was a word to catch Mrs. Norris, and being just then in thehappy leisure which followed securing the odd trick by Sir Thomas'scapital play and her own against Dr. and Mrs. Grant's great hands,she called out, in high good-humour, "Sotherton! Yes, that is a place,indeed, and we had a charming day there. William, you are quite out ofluck; but the next time you come, I hope dear Mr. and Mrs. Rushworthwill be at home, and I am sure I can answer for your being kindlyreceived by both. Your cousins are not of a sort to forget theirrelations, and Mr. Rushworth is a most amiable man. They are at Brightonnow, you know; in one of the best houses there, as Mr. Rushworth's finefortune gives them a right to be. I do not exactly know the distance,but when you get back to Portsmouth, if it is not very far off, youought to go over and pay your respects to them; and I could send alittle parcel by you that I want to get conveyed to your cousins."

  "I should be very happy, aunt; but Brighton is almost by Beachey Head;and if I could get so far, I could not expect to be welcome in such asmart place as that--poor scrubby midshipman as I am."

  Mrs. Norris was beginning an eager assurance of the affability he mightdepend on, when she was stopped by Sir Thomas's saying with authority,"I do not advise your going to Brighton, William, as I trust you maysoon have more convenient opportunities of meeting; but my daughterswould be happy to see their cousins anywhere; and you will find Mr.Rushworth most sincerely disposed to regard all the connexions of ourfamily as his own."

  "I would rather find him private secretary to the First Lord thananything else," was William's only answer, in an undervoice, not meantto reach far, and the subject dropped.

  As yet Sir Thomas had seen nothing to remark in Mr. Crawford'sbehaviour; but when the whist-table broke up at the end of the secondrubber, and leaving Dr. Grant and Mrs. Norris to dispute over their lastplay, he became a looker-on at the other, he found his niece theobject of attentions, or rather of professions, of a somewhat pointedcharacter.

  Henry Crawford was in the first glow of another scheme about ThorntonLacey; and not being able to catch Edmund's ear, was detailing it to hisfair neighbour with a look of considerable earnestness. His scheme wasto rent the house himself the following winter, that he might have ahome of his own in that neighbourhood; and it was not merely for the useof it in the hunting-season (as he was then telling her), though _that_consideration had certainly some weight, feeling as he did that, inspite of all Dr. Grant's very great kindness, it was impossible for himand his horses to be accommodated where they now were without materialinconvenience; but his attachment to that neighbourhood did not dependupon one amusement or one season of the year: he had set his heart uponhaving a something there that he could come to at any time, a littlehomestall at his command, where all the holidays of his year might bespent, and he might find himself continuing, improving, and _perfecting_that friendship and intimacy with the Mansfield Park family which wasincreasing in value to him every day. Sir Thomas heard and was notoffended. There was no want of respect in the young man's address;and Fanny's reception of it was so proper and modest, so calm anduninviting, that he had nothing to censure in her. She said little,assented only here and there, and betrayed no inclination either ofappropriating any part of the compliment to herself, or of
strengtheninghis views in favour of Northamptonshire. Finding by whom he wasobserved, Henry Crawford addressed himself on the same subject to SirThomas, in a more everyday tone, but still with feeling.

  "I want to be your neighbour, Sir Thomas, as you have, perhaps, heard metelling Miss Price. May I hope for your acquiescence, and for your notinfluencing your son against such a tenant?"

  Sir Thomas, politely bowing, replied, "It is the only way, sir, in whichI could _not_ wish you established as a permanent neighbour; but I hope,and believe, that Edmund will occupy his own house at Thornton Lacey.Edmund, am I saying too much?"

  Edmund, on this appeal, had first to hear what was going on; but, onunderstanding the question, was at no loss for an answer.

  "Certainly, sir, I have no idea but of residence. But, Crawford, thoughI refuse you as a tenant, come to me as a friend. Consider the house ashalf your own every winter, and we will add to the stables on your ownimproved plan, and with all the improvements of your improved plan thatmay occur to you this spring."

  "We shall be the losers," continued Sir Thomas. "His going, though onlyeight miles, will be an unwelcome contraction of our family circle; butI should have been deeply mortified if any son of mine could reconcilehimself to doing less. It is perfectly natural that you should not havethought much on the subject, Mr. Crawford. But a parish has wants andclaims which can be known only by a clergyman constantly resident, andwhich no proxy can be capable of satisfying to the same extent. Edmundmight, in the common phrase, do the duty of Thornton, that is, he mightread prayers and preach, without giving up Mansfield Park: he might rideover every Sunday, to a house nominally inhabited, and go through divineservice; he might be the clergyman of Thornton Lacey every seventh day,for three or four hours, if that would content him. But it will not.He knows that human nature needs more lessons than a weekly sermon canconvey; and that if he does not live among his parishioners, and provehimself, by constant attention, their well-wisher and friend, he doesvery little either for their good or his own."

  Mr. Crawford bowed his acquiescence.

  "I repeat again," added Sir Thomas, "that Thornton Lacey is the onlyhouse in the neighbourhood in which I should _not_ be happy to wait onMr. Crawford as occupier."

  Mr. Crawford bowed his thanks.

  "Sir Thomas," said Edmund, "undoubtedly understands the duty of a parishpriest. We must hope his son may prove that _he_ knows it too."

  Whatever effect Sir Thomas's little harangue might really produce on Mr.Crawford, it raised some awkward sensations in two of the others, twoof his most attentive listeners--Miss Crawford and Fanny. One ofwhom, having never before understood that Thornton was so soon and socompletely to be his home, was pondering with downcast eyes on what itwould be _not_ to see Edmund every day; and the other, startled from theagreeable fancies she had been previously indulging on the strength ofher brother's description, no longer able, in the picture she hadbeen forming of a future Thornton, to shut out the church, sink theclergyman, and see only the respectable, elegant, modernised, andoccasional residence of a man of independent fortune, was consideringSir Thomas, with decided ill-will, as the destroyer of all this, andsuffering the more from that involuntary forbearance which his characterand manner commanded, and from not daring to relieve herself by a singleattempt at throwing ridicule on his cause.

  All the agreeable of _her_ speculation was over for that hour. It wastime to have done with cards, if sermons prevailed; and she was glad tofind it necessary to come to a conclusion, and be able to refresh herspirits by a change of place and neighbour.

  The chief of the party were now collected irregularly round thefire, and waiting the final break-up. William and Fanny were the mostdetached. They remained together at the otherwise deserted card-table,talking very comfortably, and not thinking of the rest, till some of therest began to think of them. Henry Crawford's chair was the first to begiven a direction towards them, and he sat silently observing them for afew minutes; himself, in the meanwhile, observed by Sir Thomas, who wasstanding in chat with Dr. Grant.

  "This is the assembly night," said William. "If I were at Portsmouth Ishould be at it, perhaps."

  "But you do not wish yourself at Portsmouth, William?"

  "No, Fanny, that I do not. I shall have enough of Portsmouth and ofdancing too, when I cannot have you. And I do not know that there wouldbe any good in going to the assembly, for I might not get a partner.The Portsmouth girls turn up their noses at anybody who has not acommission. One might as well be nothing as a midshipman. One _is_nothing, indeed. You remember the Gregorys; they are grown up amazingfine girls, but they will hardly speak to _me_, because Lucy is courtedby a lieutenant."

  "Oh! shame, shame! But never mind it, William" (her own cheeks in aglow of indignation as she spoke). "It is not worth minding. It is noreflection on _you_; it is no more than what the greatest admirals haveall experienced, more or less, in their time. You must think of that,you must try to make up your mind to it as one of the hardships whichfall to every sailor's share, like bad weather and hard living, onlywith this advantage, that there will be an end to it, that there willcome a time when you will have nothing of that sort to endure. When youare a lieutenant! only think, William, when you are a lieutenant, howlittle you will care for any nonsense of this kind."

  "I begin to think I shall never be a lieutenant, Fanny. Everybody getsmade but me."

  "Oh! my dear William, do not talk so; do not be so desponding. My unclesays nothing, but I am sure he will do everything in his power to getyou made. He knows, as well as you do, of what consequence it is."

  She was checked by the sight of her uncle much nearer to them than shehad any suspicion of, and each found it necessary to talk of somethingelse.

  "Are you fond of dancing, Fanny?"

  "Yes, very; only I am soon tired."

  "I should like to go to a ball with you and see you dance. Have younever any balls at Northampton? I should like to see you dance, and I'ddance with you if you _would_, for nobody would know who I was here,and I should like to be your partner once more. We used to jump abouttogether many a time, did not we? when the hand-organ was in the street?I am a pretty good dancer in my way, but I dare say you are a better."And turning to his uncle, who was now close to them, "Is not Fanny avery good dancer, sir?"

  Fanny, in dismay at such an unprecedented question, did not know whichway to look, or how to be prepared for the answer. Some very gravereproof, or at least the coldest expression of indifference, must becoming to distress her brother, and sink her to the ground. But, on thecontrary, it was no worse than, "I am sorry to say that I am unableto answer your question. I have never seen Fanny dance since she was alittle girl; but I trust we shall both think she acquits herself likea gentlewoman when we do see her, which, perhaps, we may have anopportunity of doing ere long."

  "I have had the pleasure of seeing your sister dance, Mr. Price,"said Henry Crawford, leaning forward, "and will engage to answer everyinquiry which you can make on the subject, to your entire satisfaction.But I believe" (seeing Fanny looked distressed) "it must be at someother time. There is _one_ person in company who does not like to haveMiss Price spoken of."

  True enough, he had once seen Fanny dance; and it was equally truethat he would now have answered for her gliding about with quiet, lightelegance, and in admirable time; but, in fact, he could not for the lifeof him recall what her dancing had been, and rather took it for grantedthat she had been present than remembered anything about her.

  He passed, however, for an admirer of her dancing; and Sir Thomas, by nomeans displeased, prolonged the conversation on dancing in general, andwas so well engaged in describing the balls of Antigua, and listening towhat his nephew could relate of the different modes of dancing whichhad fallen within his observation, that he had not heard his carriageannounced, and was first called to the knowledge of it by the bustle ofMrs. Norris.

  "Come, Fanny, Fanny, what are you about? We are going. Do not you seeyour aunt is going? Quick, quick!
I cannot bear to keep good old Wilcoxwaiting. You should always remember the coachman and horses. My dear SirThomas, we have settled it that the carriage should come back for you,and Edmund and William."

  Sir Thomas could not dissent, as it had been his own arrangement,previously communicated to his wife and sister; but _that_ seemedforgotten by Mrs. Norris, who must fancy that she settled it allherself.

  Fanny's last feeling in the visit was disappointment: for the shawlwhich Edmund was quietly taking from the servant to bring and put roundher shoulders was seized by Mr. Crawford's quicker hand, and she wasobliged to be indebted to his more prominent attention.