Mansfield park, p.26
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       Mansfield Park, p.26

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XXVI

  William's desire of seeing Fanny dance made more than a momentaryimpression on his uncle. The hope of an opportunity, which Sir Thomashad then given, was not given to be thought of no more. He remainedsteadily inclined to gratify so amiable a feeling; to gratify anybodyelse who might wish to see Fanny dance, and to give pleasure to theyoung people in general; and having thought the matter over, and takenhis resolution in quiet independence, the result of it appeared thenext morning at breakfast, when, after recalling and commending whathis nephew had said, he added, "I do not like, William, that youshould leave Northamptonshire without this indulgence. It would give mepleasure to see you both dance. You spoke of the balls at Northampton.Your cousins have occasionally attended them; but they would notaltogether suit us now. The fatigue would be too much for your aunt. Ibelieve we must not think of a Northampton ball. A dance at home wouldbe more eligible; and if--"

  "Ah, my dear Sir Thomas!" interrupted Mrs. Norris, "I knew what wascoming. I knew what you were going to say. If dear Julia were at home,or dearest Mrs. Rushworth at Sotherton, to afford a reason, an occasionfor such a thing, you would be tempted to give the young people a danceat Mansfield. I know you would. If _they_ were at home to grace theball, a ball you would have this very Christmas. Thank your uncle,William, thank your uncle!"

  "My daughters," replied Sir Thomas, gravely interposing, "have theirpleasures at Brighton, and I hope are very happy; but the dance which Ithink of giving at Mansfield will be for their cousins. Could we be allassembled, our satisfaction would undoubtedly be more complete, but theabsence of some is not to debar the others of amusement."

  Mrs. Norris had not another word to say. She saw decision in his looks,and her surprise and vexation required some minutes' silence to besettled into composure. A ball at such a time! His daughters absent andherself not consulted! There was comfort, however, soon at hand. _She_must be the doer of everything: Lady Bertram would of course be sparedall thought and exertion, and it would all fall upon _her_. She shouldhave to do the honours of the evening; and this reflection quicklyrestored so much of her good-humour as enabled her to join in with theothers, before their happiness and thanks were all expressed.

  Edmund, William, and Fanny did, in their different ways, look and speakas much grateful pleasure in the promised ball as Sir Thomas coulddesire. Edmund's feelings were for the other two. His father had neverconferred a favour or shewn a kindness more to his satisfaction.

  Lady Bertram was perfectly quiescent and contented, and had noobjections to make. Sir Thomas engaged for its giving her very littletrouble; and she assured him "that she was not at all afraid of thetrouble; indeed, she could not imagine there would be any."

  Mrs. Norris was ready with her suggestions as to the rooms he wouldthink fittest to be used, but found it all prearranged; and when shewould have conjectured and hinted about the day, it appeared that theday was settled too. Sir Thomas had been amusing himself with shaping avery complete outline of the business; and as soon as she would listenquietly, could read his list of the families to be invited, from whomhe calculated, with all necessary allowance for the shortness of thenotice, to collect young people enough to form twelve or fourteencouple: and could detail the considerations which had induced him tofix on the 22nd as the most eligible day. William was required to be atPortsmouth on the 24th; the 22nd would therefore be the last day of hisvisit; but where the days were so few it would be unwise to fix on anyearlier. Mrs. Norris was obliged to be satisfied with thinking just thesame, and with having been on the point of proposing the 22nd herself,as by far the best day for the purpose.

  The ball was now a settled thing, and before the evening a proclaimedthing to all whom it concerned. Invitations were sent with despatch,and many a young lady went to bed that night with her head full of happycares as well as Fanny. To her the cares were sometimes almost beyondthe happiness; for young and inexperienced, with small means of choiceand no confidence in her own taste, the "how she should be dressed" wasa point of painful solicitude; and the almost solitary ornament in herpossession, a very pretty amber cross which William had brought her fromSicily, was the greatest distress of all, for she had nothing but a bitof ribbon to fasten it to; and though she had worn it in that manneronce, would it be allowable at such a time in the midst of all the richornaments which she supposed all the other young ladies would appear in?And yet not to wear it! William had wanted to buy her a gold chain too,but the purchase had been beyond his means, and therefore not to wearthe cross might be mortifying him. These were anxious considerations;enough to sober her spirits even under the prospect of a ball givenprincipally for her gratification.

  The preparations meanwhile went on, and Lady Bertram continued to sit onher sofa without any inconvenience from them. She had some extra visitsfrom the housekeeper, and her maid was rather hurried in making up a newdress for her: Sir Thomas gave orders, and Mrs. Norris ran about; butall this gave _her_ no trouble, and as she had foreseen, "there was, infact, no trouble in the business."

  Edmund was at this time particularly full of cares: his mind beingdeeply occupied in the consideration of two important events nowat hand, which were to fix his fate in life--ordination andmatrimony--events of such a serious character as to make the ball, whichwould be very quickly followed by one of them, appear of less moment inhis eyes than in those of any other person in the house. On the 23rdhe was going to a friend near Peterborough, in the same situationas himself, and they were to receive ordination in the course of theChristmas week. Half his destiny would then be determined, but theother half might not be so very smoothly wooed. His duties would beestablished, but the wife who was to share, and animate, and rewardthose duties, might yet be unattainable. He knew his own mind, but hewas not always perfectly assured of knowing Miss Crawford's. There werepoints on which they did not quite agree; there were moments in whichshe did not seem propitious; and though trusting altogether to heraffection, so far as to be resolved--almost resolved--on bringing it toa decision within a very short time, as soon as the variety of businessbefore him were arranged, and he knew what he had to offer her, hehad many anxious feelings, many doubting hours as to the result. Hisconviction of her regard for him was sometimes very strong; he couldlook back on a long course of encouragement, and she was as perfect indisinterested attachment as in everything else. But at other timesdoubt and alarm intermingled with his hopes; and when he thought ofher acknowledged disinclination for privacy and retirement, her decidedpreference of a London life, what could he expect but a determinedrejection? unless it were an acceptance even more to be deprecated,demanding such sacrifices of situation and employment on his side asconscience must forbid.

  The issue of all depended on one question. Did she love him well enoughto forego what had used to be essential points? Did she love him wellenough to make them no longer essential? And this question, which he wascontinually repeating to himself, though oftenest answered with a "Yes,"had sometimes its "No."

  Miss Crawford was soon to leave Mansfield, and on this circumstance the"no" and the "yes" had been very recently in alternation. He had seenher eyes sparkle as she spoke of the dear friend's letter, which claimeda long visit from her in London, and of the kindness of Henry, inengaging to remain where he was till January, that he might convey herthither; he had heard her speak of the pleasure of such a journey withan animation which had "no" in every tone. But this had occurred on thefirst day of its being settled, within the first hour of the burst ofsuch enjoyment, when nothing but the friends she was to visit was beforeher. He had since heard her express herself differently, with otherfeelings, more chequered feelings: he had heard her tell Mrs. Grant thatshe should leave her with regret; that she began to believe neither thefriends nor the pleasures she was going to were worth those she leftbehind; and that though she felt she must go, and knew she should enjoyherself when once away, she was already looking forward to being atMansfield again. Was there not a "yes" in all this?

  With suc
h matters to ponder over, and arrange, and re-arrange, Edmundcould not, on his own account, think very much of the evening which therest of the family were looking forward to with a more equal degree ofstrong interest. Independent of his two cousins' enjoyment in it, theevening was to him of no higher value than any other appointed meetingof the two families might be. In every meeting there was a hope ofreceiving farther confirmation of Miss Crawford's attachment; but thewhirl of a ballroom, perhaps, was not particularly favourable to theexcitement or expression of serious feelings. To engage her early forthe two first dances was all the command of individual happiness whichhe felt in his power, and the only preparation for the ball which hecould enter into, in spite of all that was passing around him on thesubject, from morning till night.

  Thursday was the day of the ball; and on Wednesday morning Fanny, stillunable to satisfy herself as to what she ought to wear, determined toseek the counsel of the more enlightened, and apply to Mrs. Grant andher sister, whose acknowledged taste would certainly bear her blameless;and as Edmund and William were gone to Northampton, and she had reasonto think Mr. Crawford likewise out, she walked down to the Parsonagewithout much fear of wanting an opportunity for private discussion;and the privacy of such a discussion was a most important part of it toFanny, being more than half-ashamed of her own solicitude.

  She met Miss Crawford within a few yards of the Parsonage, just settingout to call on her, and as it seemed to her that her friend, thoughobliged to insist on turning back, was unwilling to lose her walk, sheexplained her business at once, and observed, that if she would be sokind as to give her opinion, it might be all talked over as well withoutdoors as within. Miss Crawford appeared gratified by the application,and after a moment's thought, urged Fanny's returning with her in a muchmore cordial manner than before, and proposed their going up into herroom, where they might have a comfortable coze, without disturbing Dr.and Mrs. Grant, who were together in the drawing-room. It was just theplan to suit Fanny; and with a great deal of gratitude on her side forsuch ready and kind attention, they proceeded indoors, and upstairs, andwere soon deep in the interesting subject. Miss Crawford, pleased withthe appeal, gave her all her best judgment and taste, made everythingeasy by her suggestions, and tried to make everything agreeable by herencouragement. The dress being settled in all its grander parts--"Butwhat shall you have by way of necklace?" said Miss Crawford. "Shall notyou wear your brother's cross?" And as she spoke she was undoing asmall parcel, which Fanny had observed in her hand when they met. Fannyacknowledged her wishes and doubts on this point: she did not knowhow either to wear the cross, or to refrain from wearing it. She wasanswered by having a small trinket-box placed before her, and beingrequested to chuse from among several gold chains and necklaces. Suchhad been the parcel with which Miss Crawford was provided, and such theobject of her intended visit: and in the kindest manner she now urgedFanny's taking one for the cross and to keep for her sake, sayingeverything she could think of to obviate the scruples which were makingFanny start back at first with a look of horror at the proposal.

  "You see what a collection I have," said she; "more by half than I everuse or think of. I do not offer them as new. I offer nothing but an oldnecklace. You must forgive the liberty, and oblige me."

  Fanny still resisted, and from her heart. The gift was too valuable. ButMiss Crawford persevered, and argued the case with so much affectionateearnestness through all the heads of William and the cross, and theball, and herself, as to be finally successful. Fanny foundherself obliged to yield, that she might not be accused of prideor indifference, or some other littleness; and having with modestreluctance given her consent, proceeded to make the selection. Shelooked and looked, longing to know which might be least valuable; andwas determined in her choice at last, by fancying there was one necklacemore frequently placed before her eyes than the rest. It was of gold,prettily worked; and though Fanny would have preferred a longer and aplainer chain as more adapted for her purpose, she hoped, in fixingon this, to be chusing what Miss Crawford least wished to keep. MissCrawford smiled her perfect approbation; and hastened to complete thegift by putting the necklace round her, and making her see how wellit looked. Fanny had not a word to say against its becomingness, and,excepting what remained of her scruples, was exceedingly pleased withan acquisition so very apropos. She would rather, perhaps, have beenobliged to some other person. But this was an unworthy feeling. MissCrawford had anticipated her wants with a kindness which proved her areal friend. "When I wear this necklace I shall always think of you,"said she, "and feel how very kind you were."

  "You must think of somebody else too, when you wear that necklace,"replied Miss Crawford. "You must think of Henry, for it was his choicein the first place. He gave it to me, and with the necklace I make overto you all the duty of remembering the original giver. It is to bea family remembrancer. The sister is not to be in your mind withoutbringing the brother too."

  Fanny, in great astonishment and confusion, would have returned thepresent instantly. To take what had been the gift of another person,of a brother too, impossible! it must not be! and with an eagernessand embarrassment quite diverting to her companion, she laid down thenecklace again on its cotton, and seemed resolved either to take anotheror none at all. Miss Crawford thought she had never seen a prettierconsciousness. "My dear child," said she, laughing, "what are you afraidof? Do you think Henry will claim the necklace as mine, and fancy youdid not come honestly by it? or are you imagining he would be too muchflattered by seeing round your lovely throat an ornament which his moneypurchased three years ago, before he knew there was such a throat in theworld? or perhaps"--looking archly--"you suspect a confederacy betweenus, and that what I am now doing is with his knowledge and at hisdesire?"

  With the deepest blushes Fanny protested against such a thought.

  "Well, then," replied Miss Crawford more seriously, but without at allbelieving her, "to convince me that you suspect no trick, and are asunsuspicious of compliment as I have always found you, take the necklaceand say no more about it. Its being a gift of my brother's need not makethe smallest difference in your accepting it, as I assure you it makesnone in my willingness to part with it. He is always giving me somethingor other. I have such innumerable presents from him that it is quiteimpossible for me to value or for him to remember half. And as for thisnecklace, I do not suppose I have worn it six times: it is very pretty,but I never think of it; and though you would be most heartily welcometo any other in my trinket-box, you have happened to fix on the veryone which, if I have a choice, I would rather part with and see in yourpossession than any other. Say no more against it, I entreat you. Such atrifle is not worth half so many words."

  Fanny dared not make any farther opposition; and with renewed but lesshappy thanks accepted the necklace again, for there was an expression inMiss Crawford's eyes which she could not be satisfied with.

  It was impossible for her to be insensible of Mr. Crawford's change ofmanners. She had long seen it. He evidently tried to please her: he wasgallant, he was attentive, he was something like what he had been to hercousins: he wanted, she supposed, to cheat her of her tranquillity ashe had cheated them; and whether he might not have some concern in thisnecklace--she could not be convinced that he had not, for Miss Crawford,complaisant as a sister, was careless as a woman and a friend.

  Reflecting and doubting, and feeling that the possession of what she hadso much wished for did not bring much satisfaction, she now walkedhome again, with a change rather than a diminution of cares since hertreading that path before.

 
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