Mansfield park, p.31
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       Mansfield Park, p.31

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XXXI

  Henry Crawford was at Mansfield Park again the next morning, and at anearlier hour than common visiting warrants. The two ladies were togetherin the breakfast-room, and, fortunately for him, Lady Bertram was on thevery point of quitting it as he entered. She was almost at the door, andnot chusing by any means to take so much trouble in vain, she still wenton, after a civil reception, a short sentence about being waited for,and a "Let Sir Thomas know" to the servant.

  Henry, overjoyed to have her go, bowed and watched her off, and withoutlosing another moment, turned instantly to Fanny, and, taking out someletters, said, with a most animated look, "I must acknowledge myselfinfinitely obliged to any creature who gives me such an opportunityof seeing you alone: I have been wishing it more than you can have anyidea. Knowing as I do what your feelings as a sister are, I could hardlyhave borne that any one in the house should share with you in thefirst knowledge of the news I now bring. He is made. Your brother is alieutenant. I have the infinite satisfaction of congratulating you onyour brother's promotion. Here are the letters which announce it, thismoment come to hand. You will, perhaps, like to see them."

  Fanny could not speak, but he did not want her to speak. To see theexpression of her eyes, the change of her complexion, the progress ofher feelings, their doubt, confusion, and felicity, was enough. She tookthe letters as he gave them. The first was from the Admiral to informhis nephew, in a few words, of his having succeeded in the object he hadundertaken, the promotion of young Price, and enclosing two more, onefrom the Secretary of the First Lord to a friend, whom the Admiral hadset to work in the business, the other from that friend to himself,by which it appeared that his lordship had the very great happiness ofattending to the recommendation of Sir Charles; that Sir Charles wasmuch delighted in having such an opportunity of proving his regardfor Admiral Crawford, and that the circumstance of Mr. William Price'scommission as Second Lieutenant of H.M. Sloop Thrush being made out wasspreading general joy through a wide circle of great people.

  While her hand was trembling under these letters, her eye running fromone to the other, and her heart swelling with emotion, Crawford thuscontinued, with unfeigned eagerness, to express his interest in theevent--

  "I will not talk of my own happiness," said he, "great as it is, for Ithink only of yours. Compared with you, who has a right to be happy? Ihave almost grudged myself my own prior knowledge of what you ought tohave known before all the world. I have not lost a moment, however.The post was late this morning, but there has not been since a moment'sdelay. How impatient, how anxious, how wild I have been on the subject,I will not attempt to describe; how severely mortified, how cruellydisappointed, in not having it finished while I was in London! I waskept there from day to day in the hope of it, for nothing less dearto me than such an object would have detained me half the time fromMansfield. But though my uncle entered into my wishes with all thewarmth I could desire, and exerted himself immediately, there weredifficulties from the absence of one friend, and the engagements ofanother, which at last I could no longer bear to stay the end of, andknowing in what good hands I left the cause, I came away on Monday,trusting that many posts would not pass before I should be followed bysuch very letters as these. My uncle, who is the very best man inthe world, has exerted himself, as I knew he would, after seeing yourbrother. He was delighted with him. I would not allow myself yesterdayto say how delighted, or to repeat half that the Admiral said in hispraise. I deferred it all till his praise should be proved the praise ofa friend, as this day _does_ prove it. _Now_ I may say that even I couldnot require William Price to excite a greater interest, or be followedby warmer wishes and higher commendation, than were most voluntarilybestowed by my uncle after the evening they had passed together."

  "Has this been all _your_ doing, then?" cried Fanny. "Good heaven! howvery, very kind! Have you really--was it by _your_ desire? I beg yourpardon, but I am bewildered. Did Admiral Crawford apply? How was it? Iam stupefied."

  Henry was most happy to make it more intelligible, by beginning at anearlier stage, and explaining very particularly what he had done. Hislast journey to London had been undertaken with no other view than thatof introducing her brother in Hill Street, and prevailing on the Admiralto exert whatever interest he might have for getting him on. This hadbeen his business. He had communicated it to no creature: he had notbreathed a syllable of it even to Mary; while uncertain of the issue,he could not have borne any participation of his feelings, but this hadbeen his business; and he spoke with such a glow of what his solicitudehad been, and used such strong expressions, was so abounding in the_deepest_ _interest_, in _twofold_ _motives_, in _views_ _and_ _wishes__more_ _than_ _could_ _be_ _told_, that Fanny could not have remainedinsensible of his drift, had she been able to attend; but her heart wasso full and her senses still so astonished, that she could listen butimperfectly even to what he told her of William, and saying only whenhe paused, "How kind! how very kind! Oh, Mr. Crawford, we are infinitelyobliged to you! Dearest, dearest William!" She jumped up and moved inhaste towards the door, crying out, "I will go to my uncle. My uncleought to know it as soon as possible." But this could not be suffered.The opportunity was too fair, and his feelings too impatient. He wasafter her immediately. "She must not go, she must allow him five minuteslonger," and he took her hand and led her back to her seat, and was inthe middle of his farther explanation, before she had suspected for whatshe was detained. When she did understand it, however, and found herselfexpected to believe that she had created sensations which his heart hadnever known before, and that everything he had done for William was tobe placed to the account of his excessive and unequalled attachmentto her, she was exceedingly distressed, and for some moments unableto speak. She considered it all as nonsense, as mere trifling andgallantry, which meant only to deceive for the hour; she could not butfeel that it was treating her improperly and unworthily, and in such away as she had not deserved; but it was like himself, and entirely of apiece with what she had seen before; and she would not allow herself toshew half the displeasure she felt, because he had been conferring anobligation, which no want of delicacy on his part could make a trifleto her. While her heart was still bounding with joy and gratitude onWilliam's behalf, she could not be severely resentful of anything thatinjured only herself; and after having twice drawn back her hand, andtwice attempted in vain to turn away from him, she got up, and saidonly, with much agitation, "Don't, Mr. Crawford, pray don't! I beg youwould not. This is a sort of talking which is very unpleasant to me. Imust go away. I cannot bear it." But he was still talking on, describinghis affection, soliciting a return, and, finally, in words so plain asto bear but one meaning even to her, offering himself, hand, fortune,everything, to her acceptance. It was so; he had said it. Herastonishment and confusion increased; and though still not knowinghow to suppose him serious, she could hardly stand. He pressed for ananswer.

  "No, no, no!" she cried, hiding her face. "This is all nonsense. Do notdistress me. I can hear no more of this. Your kindness to William makesme more obliged to you than words can express; but I do not want, Icannot bear, I must not listen to such--No, no, don't think of me. Butyou are _not_ thinking of me. I know it is all nothing."

  She had burst away from him, and at that moment Sir Thomas was heardspeaking to a servant in his way towards the room they were in. It wasno time for farther assurances or entreaty, though to part with her ata moment when her modesty alone seemed, to his sanguine and preassuredmind, to stand in the way of the happiness he sought, was a cruelnecessity. She rushed out at an opposite door from the one her unclewas approaching, and was walking up and down the East room in theutmost confusion of contrary feeling, before Sir Thomas's politenessor apologies were over, or he had reached the beginning of the joyfulintelligence which his visitor came to communicate.

  She was feeling, thinking, trembling about everything; agitated, happy,miserable, infinitely obliged, absolutely angry. It was all beyondbelief! He was inexcusable, incomprehen
sible! But such were his habitsthat he could do nothing without a mixture of evil. He had previouslymade her the happiest of human beings, and now he had insulted--she knewnot what to say, how to class, or how to regard it. She would not havehim be serious, and yet what could excuse the use of such words andoffers, if they meant but to trifle?

  But William was a lieutenant. _That_ was a fact beyond a doubt, andwithout an alloy. She would think of it for ever and forget all therest. Mr. Crawford would certainly never address her so again: he musthave seen how unwelcome it was to her; and in that case, how gratefullyshe could esteem him for his friendship to William!

  She would not stir farther from the East room than the head of the greatstaircase, till she had satisfied herself of Mr. Crawford's having leftthe house; but when convinced of his being gone, she was eager to godown and be with her uncle, and have all the happiness of his joyas well as her own, and all the benefit of his information or hisconjectures as to what would now be William's destination. Sir Thomaswas as joyful as she could desire, and very kind and communicative; andshe had so comfortable a talk with him about William as to make herfeel as if nothing had occurred to vex her, till she found, towards theclose, that Mr. Crawford was engaged to return and dine there thatvery day. This was a most unwelcome hearing, for though he might thinknothing of what had passed, it would be quite distressing to her to seehim again so soon.

  She tried to get the better of it; tried very hard, as the dinner hourapproached, to feel and appear as usual; but it was quite impossible forher not to look most shy and uncomfortable when their visitor enteredthe room. She could not have supposed it in the power of any concurrenceof circumstances to give her so many painful sensations on the first dayof hearing of William's promotion.

  Mr. Crawford was not only in the room--he was soon close to her. Hehad a note to deliver from his sister. Fanny could not look at him, butthere was no consciousness of past folly in his voice. She opened hernote immediately, glad to have anything to do, and happy, as she readit, to feel that the fidgetings of her aunt Norris, who was also to dinethere, screened her a little from view.

  "My dear Fanny,--for so I may now always call you, to the infiniterelief of a tongue that has been stumbling at _Miss_ _Price_ for atleast the last six weeks--I cannot let my brother go without sending youa few lines of general congratulation, and giving my most joyful consentand approval. Go on, my dear Fanny, and without fear; there can be nodifficulties worth naming. I chuse to suppose that the assurance of myconsent will be something; so you may smile upon him with your sweetestsmiles this afternoon, and send him back to me even happier than hegoes.--Yours affectionately, M. C."

  These were not expressions to do Fanny any good; for though she readin too much haste and confusion to form the clearest judgment of MissCrawford's meaning, it was evident that she meant to compliment her onher brother's attachment, and even to _appear_ to believe it serious.She did not know what to do, or what to think. There was wretchedness inthe idea of its being serious; there was perplexity and agitation everyway. She was distressed whenever Mr. Crawford spoke to her, and he spoketo her much too often; and she was afraid there was a something in hisvoice and manner in addressing her very different from what they werewhen he talked to the others. Her comfort in that day's dinner wasquite destroyed: she could hardly eat anything; and when Sir Thomasgood-humouredly observed that joy had taken away her appetite, shewas ready to sink with shame, from the dread of Mr. Crawford'sinterpretation; for though nothing could have tempted her to turnher eyes to the right hand, where he sat, she felt that _his_ wereimmediately directed towards her.

  She was more silent than ever. She would hardly join even when Williamwas the subject, for his commission came all from the right hand too,and there was pain in the connexion.

  She thought Lady Bertram sat longer than ever, and began to be indespair of ever getting away; but at last they were in the drawing-room,and she was able to think as she would, while her aunts finished thesubject of William's appointment in their own style.

  Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be toSir Thomas as with any part of it. "_Now_ William would be able to keephimself, which would make a vast difference to his uncle, for it wasunknown how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make somedifference in _her_ presents too. She was very glad that she had givenWilliam what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been inher power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give himsomething rather considerable; that is, for _her_, with _her_ limitedmeans, for now it would all be useful in helping to fit up his cabin.She knew he must be at some expense, that he would have many things tobuy, though to be sure his father and mother would be able to put him inthe way of getting everything very cheap; but she was very glad she hadcontributed her mite towards it."

  "I am glad you gave him something considerable," said Lady Bertram, withmost unsuspicious calmness, "for _I_ gave him only 10 pounds."

  "Indeed!" cried Mrs. Norris, reddening. "Upon my word, he must have goneoff with his pockets well lined, and at no expense for his journey toLondon either!"

  "Sir Thomas told me 10 pounds would be enough."

  Mrs. Norris, being not at all inclined to question its sufficiency,began to take the matter in another point.

  "It is amazing," said she, "how much young people cost their friends,what with bringing them up and putting them out in the world! Theylittle think how much it comes to, or what their parents, or theiruncles and aunts, pay for them in the course of the year. Now, here aremy sister Price's children; take them all together, I dare say nobodywould believe what a sum they cost Sir Thomas every year, to say nothingof what _I_ do for them."

  "Very true, sister, as you say. But, poor things! they cannot helpit; and you know it makes very little difference to Sir Thomas. Fanny,William must not forget my shawl if he goes to the East Indies; and Ishall give him a commission for anything else that is worth having. Iwish he may go to the East Indies, that I may have my shawl. I think Iwill have two shawls, Fanny."

  Fanny, meanwhile, speaking only when she could not help it, was veryearnestly trying to understand what Mr. and Miss Crawford were at. Therewas everything in the world _against_ their being serious but his wordsand manner. Everything natural, probable, reasonable, was against it;all their habits and ways of thinking, and all her own demerits. Howcould _she_ have excited serious attachment in a man who had seen somany, and been admired by so many, and flirted with so many, infinitelyher superiors; who seemed so little open to serious impressions, evenwhere pains had been taken to please him; who thought so slightly, socarelessly, so unfeelingly on all such points; who was everything toeverybody, and seemed to find no one essential to him? And farther,how could it be supposed that his sister, with all her high and worldlynotions of matrimony, would be forwarding anything of a serious naturein such a quarter? Nothing could be more unnatural in either. Fannywas ashamed of her own doubts. Everything might be possible rather thanserious attachment, or serious approbation of it toward her. She hadquite convinced herself of this before Sir Thomas and Mr. Crawfordjoined them. The difficulty was in maintaining the conviction quite soabsolutely after Mr. Crawford was in the room; for once or twice alook seemed forced on her which she did not know how to class among thecommon meaning; in any other man, at least, she would have said thatit meant something very earnest, very pointed. But she still tried tobelieve it no more than what he might often have expressed towards hercousins and fifty other women.

  She thought he was wishing to speak to her unheard by the rest. Shefancied he was trying for it the whole evening at intervals, wheneverSir Thomas was out of the room, or at all engaged with Mrs. Norris, andshe carefully refused him every opportunity.

  At last--it seemed an at last to Fanny's nervousness, though notremarkably late--he began to talk of going away; but the comfort of thesound was impaired by his turning to her the next moment, and saying,"Have you nothing to send to Mary? No answer to her note? She will bed
isappointed if she receives nothing from you. Pray write to her, if itbe only a line."

  "Oh yes! certainly," cried Fanny, rising in haste, the haste ofembarrassment and of wanting to get away--"I will write directly."

  She went accordingly to the table, where she was in the habit of writingfor her aunt, and prepared her materials without knowing what in theworld to say. She had read Miss Crawford's note only once, and how toreply to anything so imperfectly understood was most distressing.Quite unpractised in such sort of note-writing, had there been time forscruples and fears as to style she would have felt them in abundance:but something must be instantly written; and with only one decidedfeeling, that of wishing not to appear to think anything reallyintended, she wrote thus, in great trembling both of spirits and hand--

  "I am very much obliged to you, my dear Miss Crawford, for your kindcongratulations, as far as they relate to my dearest William. The restof your note I know means nothing; but I am so unequal to anything ofthe sort, that I hope you will excuse my begging you to take no farthernotice. I have seen too much of Mr. Crawford not to understand hismanners; if he understood me as well, he would, I dare say, behavedifferently. I do not know what I write, but it would be a great favourof you never to mention the subject again. With thanks for the honour ofyour note, I remain, dear Miss Crawford, etc., etc."

  The conclusion was scarcely intelligible from increasing fright, forshe found that Mr. Crawford, under pretence of receiving the note, wascoming towards her.

  "You cannot think I mean to hurry you," said he, in an undervoice,perceiving the amazing trepidation with which she made up the note, "youcannot think I have any such object. Do not hurry yourself, I entreat."

  "Oh! I thank you; I have quite done, just done; it will be ready in amoment; I am very much obliged to you; if you will be so good as to give_that_ to Miss Crawford."

  The note was held out, and must be taken; and as she instantly and withaverted eyes walked towards the fireplace, where sat the others, he hadnothing to do but to go in good earnest.

  Fanny thought she had never known a day of greater agitation, both ofpain and pleasure; but happily the pleasure was not of a sort to diewith the day; for every day would restore the knowledge of William'sadvancement, whereas the pain, she hoped, would return no more. She hadno doubt that her note must appear excessively ill-written, thatthe language would disgrace a child, for her distress had allowed noarrangement; but at least it would assure them both of her being neitherimposed on nor gratified by Mr. Crawford's attentions.

 
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