Mansfield park, p.32
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       Mansfield Park, p.32

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XXXII

  Fanny had by no means forgotten Mr. Crawford when she awoke the nextmorning; but she remembered the purport of her note, and was not lesssanguine as to its effect than she had been the night before. If Mr.Crawford would but go away! That was what she most earnestly desired:go and take his sister with him, as he was to do, and as he returned toMansfield on purpose to do. And why it was not done already she couldnot devise, for Miss Crawford certainly wanted no delay. Fanny hadhoped, in the course of his yesterday's visit, to hear the day named;but he had only spoken of their journey as what would take place erelong.

  Having so satisfactorily settled the conviction her note would convey,she could not but be astonished to see Mr. Crawford, as she accidentallydid, coming up to the house again, and at an hour as early as the daybefore. His coming might have nothing to do with her, but she must avoidseeing him if possible; and being then on her way upstairs, she resolvedthere to remain, during the whole of his visit, unless actually sentfor; and as Mrs. Norris was still in the house, there seemed littledanger of her being wanted.

  She sat some time in a good deal of agitation, listening, trembling, andfearing to be sent for every moment; but as no footsteps approached theEast room, she grew gradually composed, could sit down, and be able toemploy herself, and able to hope that Mr. Crawford had come and would gowithout her being obliged to know anything of the matter.

  Nearly half an hour had passed, and she was growing very comfortable,when suddenly the sound of a step in regular approach was heard; a heavystep, an unusual step in that part of the house: it was her uncle's; sheknew it as well as his voice; she had trembled at it as often, and beganto tremble again, at the idea of his coming up to speak to her, whatevermight be the subject. It was indeed Sir Thomas who opened the door andasked if she were there, and if he might come in. The terror of hisformer occasional visits to that room seemed all renewed, and she feltas if he were going to examine her again in French and English.

  She was all attention, however, in placing a chair for him, and tryingto appear honoured; and, in her agitation, had quite overlooked thedeficiencies of her apartment, till he, stopping short as he entered,said, with much surprise, "Why have you no fire to-day?"

  There was snow on the ground, and she was sitting in a shawl. Shehesitated.

  "I am not cold, sir: I never sit here long at this time of year."

  "But you have a fire in general?"

  "No, sir."

  "How comes this about? Here must be some mistake. I understood that youhad the use of this room by way of making you perfectly comfortable.In your bedchamber I know you _cannot_ have a fire. Here is some greatmisapprehension which must be rectified. It is highly unfit for you tosit, be it only half an hour a day, without a fire. You are not strong.You are chilly. Your aunt cannot be aware of this."

  Fanny would rather have been silent; but being obliged to speak, shecould not forbear, in justice to the aunt she loved best, from sayingsomething in which the words "my aunt Norris" were distinguishable.

  "I understand," cried her uncle, recollecting himself, and not wantingto hear more: "I understand. Your aunt Norris has always been anadvocate, and very judiciously, for young people's being brought upwithout unnecessary indulgences; but there should be moderation ineverything. She is also very hardy herself, which of course willinfluence her in her opinion of the wants of others. And on anotheraccount, too, I can perfectly comprehend. I know what her sentimentshave always been. The principle was good in itself, but it may havebeen, and I believe _has_ _been_, carried too far in your case. Iam aware that there has been sometimes, in some points, a misplaceddistinction; but I think too well of you, Fanny, to suppose you willever harbour resentment on that account. You have an understandingwhich will prevent you from receiving things only in part, and judgingpartially by the event. You will take in the whole of the past, youwill consider times, persons, and probabilities, and you will feel that_they_ were not least your friends who were educating and preparing youfor that mediocrity of condition which _seemed_ to be your lot. Thoughtheir caution may prove eventually unnecessary, it was kindly meant; andof this you may be assured, that every advantage of affluence will bedoubled by the little privations and restrictions that may have beenimposed. I am sure you will not disappoint my opinion of you, by failingat any time to treat your aunt Norris with the respect and attentionthat are due to her. But enough of this. Sit down, my dear. I must speakto you for a few minutes, but I will not detain you long."

  Fanny obeyed, with eyes cast down and colour rising. After a moment'spause, Sir Thomas, trying to suppress a smile, went on.

  "You are not aware, perhaps, that I have had a visitor this morning. Ihad not been long in my own room, after breakfast, when Mr. Crawford wasshewn in. His errand you may probably conjecture."

  Fanny's colour grew deeper and deeper; and her uncle, perceiving thatshe was embarrassed to a degree that made either speaking or lookingup quite impossible, turned away his own eyes, and without any fartherpause proceeded in his account of Mr. Crawford's visit.

  Mr. Crawford's business had been to declare himself the lover of Fanny,make decided proposals for her, and entreat the sanction of the uncle,who seemed to stand in the place of her parents; and he had done it allso well, so openly, so liberally, so properly, that Sir Thomas, feeling,moreover, his own replies, and his own remarks to have been very muchto the purpose, was exceedingly happy to give the particulars of theirconversation; and little aware of what was passing in his niece's mind,conceived that by such details he must be gratifying her far more thanhimself. He talked, therefore, for several minutes without Fanny'sdaring to interrupt him. She had hardly even attained the wish to do it.Her mind was in too much confusion. She had changed her position; and,with her eyes fixed intently on one of the windows, was listening to heruncle in the utmost perturbation and dismay. For a moment he ceased, butshe had barely become conscious of it, when, rising from his chair, hesaid, "And now, Fanny, having performed one part of my commission,and shewn you everything placed on a basis the most assured andsatisfactory, I may execute the remainder by prevailing on you toaccompany me downstairs, where, though I cannot but presume on havingbeen no unacceptable companion myself, I must submit to your findingone still better worth listening to. Mr. Crawford, as you have perhapsforeseen, is yet in the house. He is in my room, and hoping to see youthere."

  There was a look, a start, an exclamation on hearing this, whichastonished Sir Thomas; but what was his increase of astonishment onhearing her exclaim--"Oh! no, sir, I cannot, indeed I cannot go down tohim. Mr. Crawford ought to know--he must know that: I told him enoughyesterday to convince him; he spoke to me on this subject yesterday,and I told him without disguise that it was very disagreeable to me, andquite out of my power to return his good opinion."

  "I do not catch your meaning," said Sir Thomas, sitting down again. "Outof your power to return his good opinion? What is all this? I know hespoke to you yesterday, and (as far as I understand) received as muchencouragement to proceed as a well-judging young woman could permitherself to give. I was very much pleased with what I collected to havebeen your behaviour on the occasion; it shewed a discretion highly tobe commended. But now, when he has made his overtures so properly, andhonourably--what are your scruples _now_?"

  "You are mistaken, sir," cried Fanny, forced by the anxiety of themoment even to tell her uncle that he was wrong; "you are quitemistaken. How could Mr. Crawford say such a thing? I gave him noencouragement yesterday. On the contrary, I told him, I cannot recollectmy exact words, but I am sure I told him that I would not listen to him,that it was very unpleasant to me in every respect, and that I beggedhim never to talk to me in that manner again. I am sure I said as muchas that and more; and I should have said still more, if I had been quitecertain of his meaning anything seriously; but I did not like to be, Icould not bear to be, imputing more than might be intended. I thought itmight all pass for nothing with _him_."

  She could say no more;
her breath was almost gone.

  "Am I to understand," said Sir Thomas, after a few moments' silence,"that you mean to _refuse_ Mr. Crawford?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Refuse him?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Refuse Mr. Crawford! Upon what plea? For what reason?"

  "I--I cannot like him, sir, well enough to marry him."

  "This is very strange!" said Sir Thomas, in a voice of calm displeasure."There is something in this which my comprehension does not reach. Hereis a young man wishing to pay his addresses to you, with everything torecommend him: not merely situation in life, fortune, and character,but with more than common agreeableness, with address and conversationpleasing to everybody. And he is not an acquaintance of to-day; you havenow known him some time. His sister, moreover, is your intimate friend,and he has been doing _that_ for your brother, which I should supposewould have been almost sufficient recommendation to you, had there beenno other. It is very uncertain when my interest might have got Williamon. He has done it already."

  "Yes," said Fanny, in a faint voice, and looking down with fresh shame;and she did feel almost ashamed of herself, after such a picture as heruncle had drawn, for not liking Mr. Crawford.

  "You must have been aware," continued Sir Thomas presently, "you musthave been some time aware of a particularity in Mr. Crawford's mannersto you. This cannot have taken you by surprise. You must have observedhis attentions; and though you always received them very properly (Ihave no accusation to make on that head), I never perceived them to beunpleasant to you. I am half inclined to think, Fanny, that you do notquite know your own feelings."

  "Oh yes, sir! indeed I do. His attentions were always--what I did notlike."

  Sir Thomas looked at her with deeper surprise. "This is beyond me,"said he. "This requires explanation. Young as you are, and having seenscarcely any one, it is hardly possible that your affections--"

  He paused and eyed her fixedly. He saw her lips formed into a _no_,though the sound was inarticulate, but her face was like scarlet. That,however, in so modest a girl, might be very compatible with innocence;and chusing at least to appear satisfied, he quickly added, "No, no, Iknow _that_ is quite out of the question; quite impossible. Well, thereis nothing more to be said."

  And for a few minutes he did say nothing. He was deep in thought. Hisniece was deep in thought likewise, trying to harden and prepare herselfagainst farther questioning. She would rather die than own the truth;and she hoped, by a little reflection, to fortify herself beyondbetraying it.

  "Independently of the interest which Mr. Crawford's _choice_ seemed tojustify" said Sir Thomas, beginning again, and very composedly, "hiswishing to marry at all so early is recommendatory to me. I am anadvocate for early marriages, where there are means in proportion, andwould have every young man, with a sufficient income, settle as soonafter four-and-twenty as he can. This is so much my opinion, that I amsorry to think how little likely my own eldest son, your cousin, Mr.Bertram, is to marry early; but at present, as far as I can judge,matrimony makes no part of his plans or thoughts. I wish he were morelikely to fix." Here was a glance at Fanny. "Edmund, I consider, fromhis dispositions and habits, as much more likely to marry early thanhis brother. _He_, indeed, I have lately thought, has seen the woman hecould love, which, I am convinced, my eldest son has not. Am I right? Doyou agree with me, my dear?"

  "Yes, sir."

  It was gently, but it was calmly said, and Sir Thomas was easy on thescore of the cousins. But the removal of his alarm did his nieceno service: as her unaccountableness was confirmed his displeasureincreased; and getting up and walking about the room with a frown, whichFanny could picture to herself, though she dared not lift up her eyes,he shortly afterwards, and in a voice of authority, said, "Have you anyreason, child, to think ill of Mr. Crawford's temper?"

  "No, sir."

  She longed to add, "But of his principles I have"; but her heart sunkunder the appalling prospect of discussion, explanation, and probablynon-conviction. Her ill opinion of him was founded chiefly onobservations, which, for her cousins' sake, she could scarcely daremention to their father. Maria and Julia, and especially Maria, were soclosely implicated in Mr. Crawford's misconduct, that she could not givehis character, such as she believed it, without betraying them. She hadhoped that, to a man like her uncle, so discerning, so honourable, sogood, the simple acknowledgment of settled _dislike_ on her side wouldhave been sufficient. To her infinite grief she found it was not.

  Sir Thomas came towards the table where she sat in tremblingwretchedness, and with a good deal of cold sternness, said, "It is of nouse, I perceive, to talk to you. We had better put an end to this mostmortifying conference. Mr. Crawford must not be kept longer waiting. Iwill, therefore, only add, as thinking it my duty to mark my opinion ofyour conduct, that you have disappointed every expectation I had formed,and proved yourself of a character the very reverse of what I hadsupposed. For I _had_, Fanny, as I think my behaviour must have shewn,formed a very favourable opinion of you from the period of my return toEngland. I had thought you peculiarly free from wilfulness of temper,self-conceit, and every tendency to that independence of spirit whichprevails so much in modern days, even in young women, and which in youngwomen is offensive and disgusting beyond all common offence. But youhave now shewn me that you can be wilful and perverse; that you can andwill decide for yourself, without any consideration or deference forthose who have surely some right to guide you, without even asking theiradvice. You have shewn yourself very, very different from anything thatI had imagined. The advantage or disadvantage of your family, of yourparents, your brothers and sisters, never seems to have had a moment'sshare in your thoughts on this occasion. How _they_ might be benefited,how _they_ must rejoice in such an establishment for you, is nothing to_you_. You think only of yourself, and because you do not feel for Mr.Crawford exactly what a young heated fancy imagines to be necessary forhappiness, you resolve to refuse him at once, without wishing even fora little time to consider of it, a little more time for coolconsideration, and for really examining your own inclinations; and are,in a wild fit of folly, throwing away from you such an opportunity ofbeing settled in life, eligibly, honourably, nobly settled, as will,probably, never occur to you again. Here is a young man of sense, ofcharacter, of temper, of manners, and of fortune, exceedingly attachedto you, and seeking your hand in the most handsome and disinterestedway; and let me tell you, Fanny, that you may live eighteen years longerin the world without being addressed by a man of half Mr. Crawford'sestate, or a tenth part of his merits. Gladly would I have bestowedeither of my own daughters on him. Maria is nobly married; but hadMr. Crawford sought Julia's hand, I should have given it to him withsuperior and more heartfelt satisfaction than I gave Maria's to Mr.Rushworth." After half a moment's pause: "And I should have been verymuch surprised had either of my daughters, on receiving a proposalof marriage at any time which might carry with it only _half_ theeligibility of _this_, immediately and peremptorily, and without payingmy opinion or my regard the compliment of any consultation, put adecided negative on it. I should have been much surprised and much hurtby such a proceeding. I should have thought it a gross violation of dutyand respect. _You_ are not to be judged by the same rule. You do notowe me the duty of a child. But, Fanny, if your heart can acquit you of_ingratitude_--"

  He ceased. Fanny was by this time crying so bitterly that, angry as hewas, he would not press that article farther. Her heart was almost brokeby such a picture of what she appeared to him; by such accusations,so heavy, so multiplied, so rising in dreadful gradation! Self-willed,obstinate, selfish, and ungrateful. He thought her all this. She haddeceived his expectations; she had lost his good opinion. What was tobecome of her?

  "I am very sorry," said she inarticulately, through her tears, "I amvery sorry indeed."

  "Sorry! yes, I hope you are sorry; and you will probably have reason tobe long sorry for this day's transactions."

  "If it were possible for me to do otherwi
se" said she, with anotherstrong effort; "but I am so perfectly convinced that I could never makehim happy, and that I should be miserable myself."

  Another burst of tears; but in spite of that burst, and in spite of thatgreat black word _miserable_, which served to introduce it, Sir Thomasbegan to think a little relenting, a little change of inclination, mighthave something to do with it; and to augur favourably from the personalentreaty of the young man himself. He knew her to be very timid, andexceedingly nervous; and thought it not improbable that her mindmight be in such a state as a little time, a little pressing, a littlepatience, and a little impatience, a judicious mixture of all on thelover's side, might work their usual effect on. If the gentleman wouldbut persevere, if he had but love enough to persevere, Sir Thomas beganto have hopes; and these reflections having passed across his mind andcheered it, "Well," said he, in a tone of becoming gravity, but of lessanger, "well, child, dry up your tears. There is no use in these tears;they can do no good. You must now come downstairs with me. Mr. Crawfordhas been kept waiting too long already. You must give him your ownanswer: we cannot expect him to be satisfied with less; and you onlycan explain to him the grounds of that misconception of your sentiments,which, unfortunately for himself, he certainly has imbibed. I am totallyunequal to it."

  But Fanny shewed such reluctance, such misery, at the idea of going downto him, that Sir Thomas, after a little consideration, judged it betterto indulge her. His hopes from both gentleman and lady suffered a smalldepression in consequence; but when he looked at his niece, and saw thestate of feature and complexion which her crying had brought herinto, he thought there might be as much lost as gained by an immediateinterview. With a few words, therefore, of no particular meaning, hewalked off by himself, leaving his poor niece to sit and cry over whathad passed, with very wretched feelings.

  Her mind was all disorder. The past, present, future, everything wasterrible. But her uncle's anger gave her the severest pain of all.Selfish and ungrateful! to have appeared so to him! She was miserablefor ever. She had no one to take her part, to counsel, or speak for her.Her only friend was absent. He might have softened his father; but all,perhaps all, would think her selfish and ungrateful. She might have toendure the reproach again and again; she might hear it, or see it, orknow it to exist for ever in every connexion about her. She could notbut feel some resentment against Mr. Crawford; yet, if he really lovedher, and were unhappy too! It was all wretchedness together.

  In about a quarter of an hour her uncle returned; she was almostready to faint at the sight of him. He spoke calmly, however, withoutausterity, without reproach, and she revived a little. There wascomfort, too, in his words, as well as his manner, for he began with,"Mr. Crawford is gone: he has just left me. I need not repeat what haspassed. I do not want to add to anything you may now be feeling, by anaccount of what he has felt. Suffice it, that he has behaved in themost gentlemanlike and generous manner, and has confirmed me in a mostfavourable opinion of his understanding, heart, and temper. Upon myrepresentation of what you were suffering, he immediately, and with thegreatest delicacy, ceased to urge to see you for the present."

  Here Fanny, who had looked up, looked down again. "Of course," continuedher uncle, "it cannot be supposed but that he should request to speakwith you alone, be it only for five minutes; a request too natural,a claim too just to be denied. But there is no time fixed; perhapsto-morrow, or whenever your spirits are composed enough. For the presentyou have only to tranquillise yourself. Check these tears; they do butexhaust you. If, as I am willing to suppose, you wish to shew me anyobservance, you will not give way to these emotions, but endeavour toreason yourself into a stronger frame of mind. I advise you to go out:the air will do you good; go out for an hour on the gravel; you willhave the shrubbery to yourself, and will be the better for air andexercise. And, Fanny" (turning back again for a moment), "I shall makeno mention below of what has passed; I shall not even tell your auntBertram. There is no occasion for spreading the disappointment; saynothing about it yourself."

  This was an order to be most joyfully obeyed; this was an act ofkindness which Fanny felt at her heart. To be spared from her auntNorris's interminable reproaches! he left her in a glow of gratitude.Anything might be bearable rather than such reproaches. Even to see Mr.Crawford would be less overpowering.

  She walked out directly, as her uncle recommended, and followed hisadvice throughout, as far as she could; did check her tears; didearnestly try to compose her spirits and strengthen her mind. She wishedto prove to him that she did desire his comfort, and sought to regainhis favour; and he had given her another strong motive for exertion, inkeeping the whole affair from the knowledge of her aunts. Not to excitesuspicion by her look or manner was now an object worth attaining; andshe felt equal to almost anything that might save her from her auntNorris.

  She was struck, quite struck, when, on returning from her walk and goinginto the East room again, the first thing which caught her eye was afire lighted and burning. A fire! it seemed too much; just at that timeto be giving her such an indulgence was exciting even painful gratitude.She wondered that Sir Thomas could have leisure to think of such atrifle again; but she soon found, from the voluntary information of thehousemaid, who came in to attend it, that so it was to be every day. SirThomas had given orders for it.

  "I must be a brute, indeed, if I can be really ungrateful!" said she, insoliloquy. "Heaven defend me from being ungrateful!"

  She saw nothing more of her uncle, nor of her aunt Norris, till they metat dinner. Her uncle's behaviour to her was then as nearly as possiblewhat it had been before; she was sure he did not mean there should beany change, and that it was only her own conscience that could fancyany; but her aunt was soon quarrelling with her; and when she found howmuch and how unpleasantly her having only walked out without her aunt'sknowledge could be dwelt on, she felt all the reason she had to blessthe kindness which saved her from the same spirit of reproach, exertedon a more momentous subject.

  "If I had known you were going out, I should have got you just to goas far as my house with some orders for Nanny," said she, "which I havesince, to my very great inconvenience, been obliged to go and carrymyself. I could very ill spare the time, and you might have saved me thetrouble, if you would only have been so good as to let us know you weregoing out. It would have made no difference to you, I suppose, whetheryou had walked in the shrubbery or gone to my house."

  "I recommended the shrubbery to Fanny as the driest place," said SirThomas.

  "Oh!" said Mrs. Norris, with a moment's check, "that was very kind ofyou, Sir Thomas; but you do not know how dry the path is to my house.Fanny would have had quite as good a walk there, I assure you, with theadvantage of being of some use, and obliging her aunt: it is all herfault. If she would but have let us know she was going out but there isa something about Fanny, I have often observed it before--she likes togo her own way to work; she does not like to be dictated to; she takesher own independent walk whenever she can; she certainly has a littlespirit of secrecy, and independence, and nonsense, about her, which Iwould advise her to get the better of."

  As a general reflection on Fanny, Sir Thomas thought nothing could bemore unjust, though he had been so lately expressing the same sentimentshimself, and he tried to turn the conversation: tried repeatedlybefore he could succeed; for Mrs. Norris had not discernment enough toperceive, either now, or at any other time, to what degree he thoughtwell of his niece, or how very far he was from wishing to have his ownchildren's merits set off by the depreciation of hers. She was talking_at_ Fanny, and resenting this private walk half through the dinner.

  It was over, however, at last; and the evening set in with morecomposure to Fanny, and more cheerfulness of spirits than she couldhave hoped for after so stormy a morning; but she trusted, in the firstplace, that she had done right: that her judgment had not misled her.For the purity of her intentions she could answer; and she was willingto hope, secondly, that her uncle's displeasure was abating, and
wouldabate farther as he considered the matter with more impartiality, andfelt, as a good man must feel, how wretched, and how unpardonable, howhopeless, and how wicked it was to marry without affection.

  When the meeting with which she was threatened for the morrow was past,she could not but flatter herself that the subject would be finallyconcluded, and Mr. Crawford once gone from Mansfield, that everythingwould soon be as if no such subject had existed. She would not, couldnot believe, that Mr. Crawford's affection for her could distress himlong; his mind was not of that sort. London would soon bring its cure.In London he would soon learn to wonder at his infatuation, and bethankful for the right reason in her which had saved him from its evilconsequences.

  While Fanny's mind was engaged in these sort of hopes, her uncle was,soon after tea, called out of the room; an occurrence too common tostrike her, and she thought nothing of it till the butler reappeared tenminutes afterwards, and advancing decidedly towards herself, said,"Sir Thomas wishes to speak with you, ma'am, in his own room." Then itoccurred to her what might be going on; a suspicion rushed over her mindwhich drove the colour from her cheeks; but instantly rising, she waspreparing to obey, when Mrs. Norris called out, "Stay, stay, Fanny! whatare you about? where are you going? don't be in such a hurry. Dependupon it, it is not you who are wanted; depend upon it, it is me"(looking at the butler); "but you are so very eager to put yourselfforward. What should Sir Thomas want you for? It is me, Baddeley, youmean; I am coming this moment. You mean me, Baddeley, I am sure; SirThomas wants me, not Miss Price."

  But Baddeley was stout. "No, ma'am, it is Miss Price; I am certain ofits being Miss Price." And there was a half-smile with the words, whichmeant, "I do not think you would answer the purpose at all."

  Mrs. Norris, much discontented, was obliged to compose herself to workagain; and Fanny, walking off in agitating consciousness, found herself,as she anticipated, in another minute alone with Mr. Crawford.

 
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