Mansfield park, p.28
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       Mansfield Park, p.28
 

           Jane Austen

  CHAPTER XXVIII

  Her uncle and both her aunts were in the drawing-room when Fanny wentdown. To the former she was an interesting object, and he saw withpleasure the general elegance of her appearance, and her being inremarkably good looks. The neatness and propriety of her dress was allthat he would allow himself to commend in her presence, but upon herleaving the room again soon afterwards, he spoke of her beauty with verydecided praise.

  "Yes," said Lady Bertram, "she looks very well. I sent Chapman to her."

  "Look well! Oh, yes!" cried Mrs. Norris, "she has good reason to lookwell with all her advantages: brought up in this family as she has been,with all the benefit of her cousins' manners before her. Only think, mydear Sir Thomas, what extraordinary advantages you and I have been themeans of giving her. The very gown you have been taking notice of isyour own generous present to her when dear Mrs. Rushworth married. Whatwould she have been if we had not taken her by the hand?"

  Sir Thomas said no more; but when they sat down to table the eyes ofthe two young men assured him that the subject might be gently touchedagain, when the ladies withdrew, with more success. Fanny saw that shewas approved; and the consciousness of looking well made her look stillbetter. From a variety of causes she was happy, and she was soon madestill happier; for in following her aunts out of the room, Edmund, whowas holding open the door, said, as she passed him, "You must dancewith me, Fanny; you must keep two dances for me; any two that you like,except the first." She had nothing more to wish for. She had hardlyever been in a state so nearly approaching high spirits in her life. Hercousins' former gaiety on the day of a ball was no longer surprising toher; she felt it to be indeed very charming, and was actually practisingher steps about the drawing-room as long as she could be safe from thenotice of her aunt Norris, who was entirely taken up at first in fresharranging and injuring the noble fire which the butler had prepared.

  Half an hour followed that would have been at least languid under anyother circumstances, but Fanny's happiness still prevailed. It was butto think of her conversation with Edmund, and what was the restlessnessof Mrs. Norris? What were the yawns of Lady Bertram?

  The gentlemen joined them; and soon after began the sweet expectation ofa carriage, when a general spirit of ease and enjoyment seemed diffused,and they all stood about and talked and laughed, and every moment hadits pleasure and its hope. Fanny felt that there must be a strugglein Edmund's cheerfulness, but it was delightful to see the effort sosuccessfully made.

  When the carriages were really heard, when the guests began really toassemble, her own gaiety of heart was much subdued: the sight of somany strangers threw her back into herself; and besides the gravity andformality of the first great circle, which the manners of neither SirThomas nor Lady Bertram were of a kind to do away, she found herselfoccasionally called on to endure something worse. She was introducedhere and there by her uncle, and forced to be spoken to, and to curtsey,and speak again. This was a hard duty, and she was never summoned toit without looking at William, as he walked about at his ease in thebackground of the scene, and longing to be with him.

  The entrance of the Grants and Crawfords was a favourable epoch. Thestiffness of the meeting soon gave way before their popular manners andmore diffused intimacies: little groups were formed, and everybody grewcomfortable. Fanny felt the advantage; and, drawing back from the toilsof civility, would have been again most happy, could she have kept hereyes from wandering between Edmund and Mary Crawford. _She_ looked allloveliness--and what might not be the end of it? Her own musingswere brought to an end on perceiving Mr. Crawford before her, andher thoughts were put into another channel by his engaging her almostinstantly for the first two dances. Her happiness on this occasion wasvery much _a_ _la_ _mortal_, finely chequered. To be secure of a partnerat first was a most essential good--for the moment of beginning was nowgrowing seriously near; and she so little understood her own claims asto think that if Mr. Crawford had not asked her, she must have been thelast to be sought after, and should have received a partner only througha series of inquiry, and bustle, and interference, which would have beenterrible; but at the same time there was a pointedness in his manner ofasking her which she did not like, and she saw his eye glancing fora moment at her necklace, with a smile--she thought there was asmile--which made her blush and feel wretched. And though there was nosecond glance to disturb her, though his object seemed then to be onlyquietly agreeable, she could not get the better of her embarrassment,heightened as it was by the idea of his perceiving it, and had nocomposure till he turned away to some one else. Then she could graduallyrise up to the genuine satisfaction of having a partner, a voluntarypartner, secured against the dancing began.

  When the company were moving into the ballroom, she found herselffor the first time near Miss Crawford, whose eyes and smiles wereimmediately and more unequivocally directed as her brother's had been,and who was beginning to speak on the subject, when Fanny, anxiousto get the story over, hastened to give the explanation of the secondnecklace: the real chain. Miss Crawford listened; and all her intendedcompliments and insinuations to Fanny were forgotten: she felt only onething; and her eyes, bright as they had been before, shewing they couldyet be brighter, she exclaimed with eager pleasure, "Did he? Did Edmund?That was like himself. No other man would have thought of it. I honourhim beyond expression." And she looked around as if longing to tell himso. He was not near, he was attending a party of ladies out of the room;and Mrs. Grant coming up to the two girls, and taking an arm of each,they followed with the rest.

  Fanny's heart sunk, but there was no leisure for thinking long even ofMiss Crawford's feelings. They were in the ballroom, the violins wereplaying, and her mind was in a flutter that forbade its fixing onanything serious. She must watch the general arrangements, and see howeverything was done.

  In a few minutes Sir Thomas came to her, and asked if she were engaged;and the "Yes, sir; to Mr. Crawford," was exactly what he had intendedto hear. Mr. Crawford was not far off; Sir Thomas brought him to her,saying something which discovered to Fanny, that _she_ was to lead theway and open the ball; an idea that had never occurred to her before.Whenever she had thought of the minutiae of the evening, it had been asa matter of course that Edmund would begin with Miss Crawford; and theimpression was so strong, that though _her_ _uncle_ spoke the contrary,she could not help an exclamation of surprise, a hint of her unfitness,an entreaty even to be excused. To be urging her opinion against SirThomas's was a proof of the extremity of the case; but such was herhorror at the first suggestion, that she could actually look him inthe face and say that she hoped it might be settled otherwise; in vain,however: Sir Thomas smiled, tried to encourage her, and then looked tooserious, and said too decidedly, "It must be so, my dear," for her tohazard another word; and she found herself the next moment conducted byMr. Crawford to the top of the room, and standing there to be joined bythe rest of the dancers, couple after couple, as they were formed.

  She could hardly believe it. To be placed above so many elegant youngwomen! The distinction was too great. It was treating her like hercousins! And her thoughts flew to those absent cousins with mostunfeigned and truly tender regret, that they were not at home to taketheir own place in the room, and have their share of a pleasure whichwould have been so very delightful to them. So often as she had heardthem wish for a ball at home as the greatest of all felicities! Andto have them away when it was given--and for _her_ to be opening theball--and with Mr. Crawford too! She hoped they would not envy her thatdistinction _now_; but when she looked back to the state of things inthe autumn, to what they had all been to each other when once dancingin that house before, the present arrangement was almost more than shecould understand herself.

  The ball began. It was rather honour than happiness to Fanny, for thefirst dance at least: her partner was in excellent spirits, and tried toimpart them to her; but she was a great deal too much frightened to haveany enjoyment till she could suppose herself no longer looked at. Young,pretty
, and gentle, however, she had no awkwardnesses that were notas good as graces, and there were few persons present that were notdisposed to praise her. She was attractive, she was modest, she was SirThomas's niece, and she was soon said to be admired by Mr. Crawford. Itwas enough to give her general favour. Sir Thomas himself was watchingher progress down the dance with much complacency; he was proud of hisniece; and without attributing all her personal beauty, as Mrs. Norrisseemed to do, to her transplantation to Mansfield, he was pleased withhimself for having supplied everything else: education and manners sheowed to him.

  Miss Crawford saw much of Sir Thomas's thoughts as he stood, and having,in spite of all his wrongs towards her, a general prevailing desire ofrecommending herself to him, took an opportunity of stepping aside tosay something agreeable of Fanny. Her praise was warm, and hereceived it as she could wish, joining in it as far as discretion, andpoliteness, and slowness of speech would allow, and certainly appearingto greater advantage on the subject than his lady did soon afterwards,when Mary, perceiving her on a sofa very near, turned round before shebegan to dance, to compliment her on Miss Price's looks.

  "Yes, she does look very well," was Lady Bertram's placid reply."Chapman helped her to dress. I sent Chapman to her." Not but thatshe was really pleased to have Fanny admired; but she was so much morestruck with her own kindness in sending Chapman to her, that she couldnot get it out of her head.

  Miss Crawford knew Mrs. Norris too well to think of gratifying _her_by commendation of Fanny; to her, it was as the occasion offered--"Ah!ma'am, how much we want dear Mrs. Rushworth and Julia to-night!" andMrs. Norris paid her with as many smiles and courteous words as she hadtime for, amid so much occupation as she found for herself in makingup card-tables, giving hints to Sir Thomas, and trying to move all thechaperons to a better part of the room.

  Miss Crawford blundered most towards Fanny herself in her intentionsto please. She meant to be giving her little heart a happy flutter,and filling her with sensations of delightful self-consequence; and,misinterpreting Fanny's blushes, still thought she must be doing so whenshe went to her after the two first dances, and said, with a significantlook, "Perhaps _you_ can tell me why my brother goes to town to-morrow?He says he has business there, but will not tell me what. The first timehe ever denied me his confidence! But this is what we all come to.All are supplanted sooner or later. Now, I must apply to you forinformation. Pray, what is Henry going for?"

  Fanny protested her ignorance as steadily as her embarrassment allowed.

  "Well, then," replied Miss Crawford, laughing, "I must suppose it to bepurely for the pleasure of conveying your brother, and of talking of youby the way."

  Fanny was confused, but it was the confusion of discontent; while MissCrawford wondered she did not smile, and thought her over-anxious,or thought her odd, or thought her anything rather than insensible ofpleasure in Henry's attentions. Fanny had a good deal of enjoyment inthe course of the evening; but Henry's attentions had very little todo with it. She would much rather _not_ have been asked by him again sovery soon, and she wished she had not been obliged to suspect that hisprevious inquiries of Mrs. Norris, about the supper hour, were all forthe sake of securing her at that part of the evening. But it was not tobe avoided: he made her feel that she was the object of all; though shecould not say that it was unpleasantly done, that there was indelicacyor ostentation in his manner; and sometimes, when he talked of William,he was really not unagreeable, and shewed even a warmth of heartwhich did him credit. But still his attentions made no part of hersatisfaction. She was happy whenever she looked at William, and saw howperfectly he was enjoying himself, in every five minutes that she couldwalk about with him and hear his account of his partners; she was happyin knowing herself admired; and she was happy in having the two danceswith Edmund still to look forward to, during the greatest part of theevening, her hand being so eagerly sought after that her indefiniteengagement with _him_ was in continual perspective. She was happy evenwhen they did take place; but not from any flow of spirits on his side,or any such expressions of tender gallantry as had blessed the morning.His mind was fagged, and her happiness sprung from being the friend withwhom it could find repose. "I am worn out with civility," said he. "Ihave been talking incessantly all night, and with nothing to say. Butwith _you_, Fanny, there may be peace. You will not want to be talkedto. Let us have the luxury of silence." Fanny would hardly even speakher agreement. A weariness, arising probably, in great measure, from thesame feelings which he had acknowledged in the morning, was peculiarlyto be respected, and they went down their two dances together with suchsober tranquillity as might satisfy any looker-on that Sir Thomas hadbeen bringing up no wife for his younger son.

  The evening had afforded Edmund little pleasure. Miss Crawford hadbeen in gay spirits when they first danced together, but it was not hergaiety that could do him good: it rather sank than raised his comfort;and afterwards, for he found himself still impelled to seek heragain, she had absolutely pained him by her manner of speaking of theprofession to which he was now on the point of belonging. They hadtalked, and they had been silent; he had reasoned, she had ridiculed;and they had parted at last with mutual vexation. Fanny, not able torefrain entirely from observing them, had seen enough to be tolerablysatisfied. It was barbarous to be happy when Edmund was suffering. Yetsome happiness must and would arise from the very conviction that he didsuffer.

  When her two dances with him were over, her inclination and strength formore were pretty well at an end; and Sir Thomas, having seen her walkrather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her handat her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely. From thattime Mr. Crawford sat down likewise.

  "Poor Fanny!" cried William, coming for a moment to visit her, andworking away his partner's fan as if for life, "how soon she is knockedup! Why, the sport is but just begun. I hope we shall keep it up thesetwo hours. How can you be tired so soon?"

  "So soon! my good friend," said Sir Thomas, producing his watch with allnecessary caution; "it is three o'clock, and your sister is not used tothese sort of hours."

  "Well, then, Fanny, you shall not get up to-morrow before I go. Sleep aslong as you can, and never mind me."

  "Oh! William."

  "What! Did she think of being up before you set off?"

  "Oh! yes, sir," cried Fanny, rising eagerly from her seat to be nearerher uncle; "I must get up and breakfast with him. It will be the lasttime, you know; the last morning."

  "You had better not. He is to have breakfasted and be gone by half-pastnine. Mr. Crawford, I think you call for him at half-past nine?"

  Fanny was too urgent, however, and had too many tears in her eyes fordenial; and it ended in a gracious "Well, well!" which was permission.

  "Yes, half-past nine," said Crawford to William as the latter wasleaving them, "and I shall be punctual, for there will be no kind sisterto get up for _me_." And in a lower tone to Fanny, "I shall have onlya desolate house to hurry from. Your brother will find my ideas of timeand his own very different to-morrow."

  After a short consideration, Sir Thomas asked Crawford to join the earlybreakfast party in that house instead of eating alone: he should himselfbe of it; and the readiness with which his invitation was acceptedconvinced him that the suspicions whence, he must confess to himself,this very ball had in great measure sprung, were well founded. Mr.Crawford was in love with Fanny. He had a pleasing anticipation of whatwould be. His niece, meanwhile, did not thank him for what he had justdone. She had hoped to have William all to herself the last morning. Itwould have been an unspeakable indulgence. But though her wisheswere overthrown, there was no spirit of murmuring within her. On thecontrary, she was so totally unused to have her pleasure consulted, orto have anything take place at all in the way she could desire, that shewas more disposed to wonder and rejoice in having carried her point sofar, than to repine at the counteraction which followed.

  Shortly afterward, Sir Thomas was again interfering a little w
ith herinclination, by advising her to go immediately to bed. "Advise" was hisword, but it was the advice of absolute power, and she had only torise, and, with Mr. Crawford's very cordial adieus, pass quietly away;stopping at the entrance-door, like the Lady of Branxholm Hall, "onemoment and no more," to view the happy scene, and take a last look atthe five or six determined couple who were still hard at work; and then,creeping slowly up the principal staircase, pursued by the ceaselesscountry-dance, feverish with hopes and fears, soup and negus,sore-footed and fatigued, restless and agitated, yet feeling, in spiteof everything, that a ball was indeed delightful.

  In thus sending her away, Sir Thomas perhaps might not be thinkingmerely of her health. It might occur to him that Mr. Crawford had beensitting by her long enough, or he might mean to recommend her as a wifeby shewing her persuadableness.