Mansfield park, p.34
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       Mansfield Park, p.34

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XXXIV

  Edmund had great things to hear on his return. Many surprises wereawaiting him. The first that occurred was not least in interest: theappearance of Henry Crawford and his sister walking together through thevillage as he rode into it. He had concluded--he had meant them to befar distant. His absence had been extended beyond a fortnight purposelyto avoid Miss Crawford. He was returning to Mansfield with spirits readyto feed on melancholy remembrances, and tender associations, when herown fair self was before him, leaning on her brother's arm, and he foundhimself receiving a welcome, unquestionably friendly, from the womanwhom, two moments before, he had been thinking of as seventy miles off,and as farther, much farther, from him in inclination than any distancecould express.

  Her reception of him was of a sort which he could not have hopedfor, had he expected to see her. Coming as he did from such a purportfulfilled as had taken him away, he would have expected anything ratherthan a look of satisfaction, and words of simple, pleasant meaning.It was enough to set his heart in a glow, and to bring him home in theproperest state for feeling the full value of the other joyful surprisesat hand.

  William's promotion, with all its particulars, he was soon master of;and with such a secret provision of comfort within his own breast tohelp the joy, he found in it a source of most gratifying sensation andunvarying cheerfulness all dinner-time.

  After dinner, when he and his father were alone, he had Fanny's history;and then all the great events of the last fortnight, and the presentsituation of matters at Mansfield were known to him.

  Fanny suspected what was going on. They sat so much longer than usual inthe dining-parlour, that she was sure they must be talking of her; andwhen tea at last brought them away, and she was to be seen by Edmundagain, she felt dreadfully guilty. He came to her, sat down by her, tookher hand, and pressed it kindly; and at that moment she thought that,but for the occupation and the scene which the tea-things afforded, shemust have betrayed her emotion in some unpardonable excess.

  He was not intending, however, by such action, to be conveying to herthat unqualified approbation and encouragement which her hopes drewfrom it. It was designed only to express his participation in all thatinterested her, and to tell her that he had been hearing what quickenedevery feeling of affection. He was, in fact, entirely on his father'sside of the question. His surprise was not so great as his father's ather refusing Crawford, because, so far from supposing her to considerhim with anything like a preference, he had always believed it tobe rather the reverse, and could imagine her to be taken perfectlyunprepared, but Sir Thomas could not regard the connexion as moredesirable than he did. It had every recommendation to him; and whilehonouring her for what she had done under the influence of her presentindifference, honouring her in rather stronger terms than Sir Thomascould quite echo, he was most earnest in hoping, and sanguine inbelieving, that it would be a match at last, and that, united by mutualaffection, it would appear that their dispositions were as exactlyfitted to make them blessed in each other, as he was now beginningseriously to consider them. Crawford had been too precipitate. He hadnot given her time to attach herself. He had begun at the wrong end.With such powers as his, however, and such a disposition as hers, Edmundtrusted that everything would work out a happy conclusion. Meanwhile,he saw enough of Fanny's embarrassment to make him scrupulously guardagainst exciting it a second time, by any word, or look, or movement.

  Crawford called the next day, and on the score of Edmund's return, SirThomas felt himself more than licensed to ask him to stay dinner; it wasreally a necessary compliment. He staid of course, and Edmund had thenample opportunity for observing how he sped with Fanny, and what degreeof immediate encouragement for him might be extracted from her manners;and it was so little, so very, very little--every chance, everypossibility of it, resting upon her embarrassment only; if there wasnot hope in her confusion, there was hope in nothing else--that he wasalmost ready to wonder at his friend's perseverance. Fanny was worth itall; he held her to be worth every effort of patience, every exertion ofmind, but he did not think he could have gone on himself with any womanbreathing, without something more to warm his courage than his eyescould discern in hers. He was very willing to hope that Crawford sawclearer, and this was the most comfortable conclusion for his friendthat he could come to from all that he observed to pass before, and at,and after dinner.

  In the evening a few circumstances occurred which he thought morepromising. When he and Crawford walked into the drawing-room, his motherand Fanny were sitting as intently and silently at work as if therewere nothing else to care for. Edmund could not help noticing theirapparently deep tranquillity.

  "We have not been so silent all the time," replied his mother. "Fannyhas been reading to me, and only put the book down upon hearing youcoming." And sure enough there was a book on the table which had the airof being very recently closed: a volume of Shakespeare. "She oftenreads to me out of those books; and she was in the middle of a veryfine speech of that man's--what's his name, Fanny?--when we heard yourfootsteps."

  Crawford took the volume. "Let me have the pleasure of finishing thatspeech to your ladyship," said he. "I shall find it immediately." And bycarefully giving way to the inclination of the leaves, he did find it,or within a page or two, quite near enough to satisfy Lady Bertram, whoassured him, as soon as he mentioned the name of Cardinal Wolsey, thathe had got the very speech. Not a look or an offer of help had Fannygiven; not a syllable for or against. All her attention was for herwork. She seemed determined to be interested by nothing else. But tastewas too strong in her. She could not abstract her mind five minutes: shewas forced to listen; his reading was capital, and her pleasure in goodreading extreme. To _good_ reading, however, she had been long used:her uncle read well, her cousins all, Edmund very well, but in Mr.Crawford's reading there was a variety of excellence beyond what she hadever met with. The King, the Queen, Buckingham, Wolsey, Cromwell, allwere given in turn; for with the happiest knack, the happiest power ofjumping and guessing, he could always alight at will on the best scene,or the best speeches of each; and whether it were dignity, or pride, ortenderness, or remorse, or whatever were to be expressed, he could doit with equal beauty. It was truly dramatic. His acting had first taughtFanny what pleasure a play might give, and his reading brought all hisacting before her again; nay, perhaps with greater enjoyment, for itcame unexpectedly, and with no such drawback as she had been used tosuffer in seeing him on the stage with Miss Bertram.

  Edmund watched the progress of her attention, and was amused andgratified by seeing how she gradually slackened in the needlework, whichat the beginning seemed to occupy her totally: how it fell from her handwhile she sat motionless over it, and at last, how the eyes which hadappeared so studiously to avoid him throughout the day were turned andfixed on Crawford--fixed on him for minutes, fixed on him, in short,till the attraction drew Crawford's upon her, and the book was closed,and the charm was broken. Then she was shrinking again into herself,and blushing and working as hard as ever; but it had been enough to giveEdmund encouragement for his friend, and as he cordially thanked him, hehoped to be expressing Fanny's secret feelings too.

  "That play must be a favourite with you," said he; "you read as if youknew it well."

  "It will be a favourite, I believe, from this hour," replied Crawford;"but I do not think I have had a volume of Shakespeare in my hand beforesince I was fifteen. I once saw Henry the Eighth acted, or I have heardof it from somebody who did, I am not certain which. But Shakespeareone gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of anEnglishman's constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spreadabroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him byinstinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of hisplays without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately."

  "No doubt one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree," said Edmund,"from one's earliest years. His celebrated passages are quotedby everybody; they are in half the books we open, an
d we all talkShakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions; butthis is totally distinct from giving his sense as you gave it. To knowhim in bits and scraps is common enough; to know him pretty thoroughlyis, perhaps, not uncommon; but to read him well aloud is no everydaytalent."

  "Sir, you do me honour," was Crawford's answer, with a bow of mockgravity.

  Both gentlemen had a glance at Fanny, to see if a word of accordantpraise could be extorted from her; yet both feeling that it could notbe. Her praise had been given in her attention; _that_ must contentthem.

  Lady Bertram's admiration was expressed, and strongly too. "It wasreally like being at a play," said she. "I wish Sir Thomas had beenhere."

  Crawford was excessively pleased. If Lady Bertram, with all herincompetency and languor, could feel this, the inference of what herniece, alive and enlightened as she was, must feel, was elevating.

  "You have a great turn for acting, I am sure, Mr. Crawford," said herladyship soon afterwards; "and I will tell you what, I think you willhave a theatre, some time or other, at your house in Norfolk. I meanwhen you are settled there. I do indeed. I think you will fit up atheatre at your house in Norfolk."

  "Do you, ma'am?" cried he, with quickness. "No, no, that will never be.Your ladyship is quite mistaken. No theatre at Everingham! Oh no!" Andhe looked at Fanny with an expressive smile, which evidently meant,"That lady will never allow a theatre at Everingham."

  Edmund saw it all, and saw Fanny so determined _not_ to see it, as tomake it clear that the voice was enough to convey the full meaning ofthe protestation; and such a quick consciousness of compliment, such aready comprehension of a hint, he thought, was rather favourable thannot.

  The subject of reading aloud was farther discussed. The two young menwere the only talkers, but they, standing by the fire, talked over thetoo common neglect of the qualification, the total inattention to it,in the ordinary school-system for boys, the consequently natural, yet insome instances almost unnatural, degree of ignorance and uncouthnessof men, of sensible and well-informed men, when suddenly called to thenecessity of reading aloud, which had fallen within their notice, givinginstances of blunders, and failures with their secondary causes, thewant of management of the voice, of proper modulation and emphasis, offoresight and judgment, all proceeding from the first cause: want ofearly attention and habit; and Fanny was listening again with greatentertainment.

  "Even in my profession," said Edmund, with a smile, "how little theart of reading has been studied! how little a clear manner, and gooddelivery, have been attended to! I speak rather of the past, however,than the present. There is now a spirit of improvement abroad; but amongthose who were ordained twenty, thirty, forty years ago, the largernumber, to judge by their performance, must have thought reading wasreading, and preaching was preaching. It is different now. The subjectis more justly considered. It is felt that distinctness and energy mayhave weight in recommending the most solid truths; and besides, there ismore general observation and taste, a more critical knowledge diffusedthan formerly; in every congregation there is a larger proportion whoknow a little of the matter, and who can judge and criticise."

  Edmund had already gone through the service once since his ordination;and upon this being understood, he had a variety of questions fromCrawford as to his feelings and success; questions, which being made,though with the vivacity of friendly interest and quick taste, withoutany touch of that spirit of banter or air of levity which Edmund knew tobe most offensive to Fanny, he had true pleasure in satisfying; andwhen Crawford proceeded to ask his opinion and give his own as to theproperest manner in which particular passages in the service should bedelivered, shewing it to be a subject on which he had thought before,and thought with judgment, Edmund was still more and more pleased. Thiswould be the way to Fanny's heart. She was not to be won by all thatgallantry and wit and good-nature together could do; or, at least,she would not be won by them nearly so soon, without the assistance ofsentiment and feeling, and seriousness on serious subjects.

  "Our liturgy," observed Crawford, "has beauties, which not even acareless, slovenly style of reading can destroy; but it has alsoredundancies and repetitions which require good reading not to be felt.For myself, at least, I must confess being not always so attentive as Iought to be" (here was a glance at Fanny); "that nineteen times out oftwenty I am thinking how such a prayer ought to be read, and longing tohave it to read myself. Did you speak?" stepping eagerly to Fanny, andaddressing her in a softened voice; and upon her saying "No," he added,"Are you sure you did not speak? I saw your lips move. I fancied youmight be going to tell me I ought to be more attentive, and not _allow_my thoughts to wander. Are not you going to tell me so?"

  "No, indeed, you know your duty too well for me to--even supposing--"

  She stopt, felt herself getting into a puzzle, and could not beprevailed on to add another word, not by dint of several minutes ofsupplication and waiting. He then returned to his former station, andwent on as if there had been no such tender interruption.

  "A sermon, well delivered, is more uncommon even than prayers well read.A sermon, good in itself, is no rare thing. It is more difficultto speak well than to compose well; that is, the rules and trick ofcomposition are oftener an object of study. A thoroughly good sermon,thoroughly well delivered, is a capital gratification. I can never hearsuch a one without the greatest admiration and respect, and more thanhalf a mind to take orders and preach myself. There is something in theeloquence of the pulpit, when it is really eloquence, which is entitledto the highest praise and honour. The preacher who can touch and affectsuch an heterogeneous mass of hearers, on subjects limited, and longworn threadbare in all common hands; who can say anything new orstriking, anything that rouses the attention without offending thetaste, or wearing out the feelings of his hearers, is a man whom onecould not, in his public capacity, honour enough. I should like to besuch a man."

  Edmund laughed.

  "I should indeed. I never listened to a distinguished preacher in mylife without a sort of envy. But then, I must have a London audience.I could not preach but to the educated; to those who were capable ofestimating my composition. And I do not know that I should be fond ofpreaching often; now and then, perhaps once or twice in the spring,after being anxiously expected for half a dozen Sundays together; butnot for a constancy; it would not do for a constancy."

  Here Fanny, who could not but listen, involuntarily shook her head,and Crawford was instantly by her side again, entreating to know hermeaning; and as Edmund perceived, by his drawing in a chair, and sittingdown close by her, that it was to be a very thorough attack, that looksand undertones were to be well tried, he sank as quietly as possibleinto a corner, turned his back, and took up a newspaper, very sincerelywishing that dear little Fanny might be persuaded into explaining awaythat shake of the head to the satisfaction of her ardent lover; and asearnestly trying to bury every sound of the business from himself inmurmurs of his own, over the various advertisements of "A most desirableEstate in South Wales"; "To Parents and Guardians"; and a "Capitalseason'd Hunter."

  Fanny, meanwhile, vexed with herself for not having been as motionlessas she was speechless, and grieved to the heart to see Edmund'sarrangements, was trying by everything in the power of her modest,gentle nature, to repulse Mr. Crawford, and avoid both his looks andinquiries; and he, unrepulsable, was persisting in both.

  "What did that shake of the head mean?" said he. "What was it meant toexpress? Disapprobation, I fear. But of what? What had I been sayingto displease you? Did you think me speaking improperly, lightly,irreverently on the subject? Only tell me if I was. Only tell me ifI was wrong. I want to be set right. Nay, nay, I entreat you; for onemoment put down your work. What did that shake of the head mean?"

  In vain was her "Pray, sir, don't; pray, Mr. Crawford," repeated twiceover; and in vain did she try to move away. In the same low, eagervoice, and the same close neighbourhood, he went on, reurging the samequestions as before. She grew more agitated
and displeased.

  "How can you, sir? You quite astonish me; I wonder how you can--"

  "Do I astonish you?" said he. "Do you wonder? Is there anything inmy present entreaty that you do not understand? I will explain to youinstantly all that makes me urge you in this manner, all that gives mean interest in what you look and do, and excites my present curiosity. Iwill not leave you to wonder long."

  In spite of herself, she could not help half a smile, but she saidnothing.

  "You shook your head at my acknowledging that I should not like toengage in the duties of a clergyman always for a constancy. Yes, thatwas the word. Constancy: I am not afraid of the word. I would spell it,read it, write it with anybody. I see nothing alarming in the word. Didyou think I ought?"

  "Perhaps, sir," said Fanny, wearied at last into speaking--"perhaps,sir, I thought it was a pity you did not always know yourself as well asyou seemed to do at that moment."

  Crawford, delighted to get her to speak at any rate, was determinedto keep it up; and poor Fanny, who had hoped to silence him by such anextremity of reproof, found herself sadly mistaken, and that it was onlya change from one object of curiosity and one set of words to another.He had always something to entreat the explanation of. The opportunitywas too fair. None such had occurred since his seeing her in her uncle'sroom, none such might occur again before his leaving Mansfield. LadyBertram's being just on the other side of the table was a trifle,for she might always be considered as only half-awake, and Edmund'sadvertisements were still of the first utility.

  "Well," said Crawford, after a course of rapid questions and reluctantanswers; "I am happier than I was, because I now understand more clearlyyour opinion of me. You think me unsteady: easily swayed by the whim ofthe moment, easily tempted, easily put aside. With such an opinion, nowonder that. But we shall see. It is not by protestations that I shallendeavour to convince you I am wronged; it is not by telling you that myaffections are steady. My conduct shall speak for me; absence, distance,time shall speak for me. _They_ shall prove that, as far as you can bedeserved by anybody, I do deserve you. You are infinitely my superiorin merit; all _that_ I know. You have qualities which I had not beforesupposed to exist in such a degree in any human creature. You have sometouches of the angel in you beyond what--not merely beyond what onesees, because one never sees anything like it--but beyond what onefancies might be. But still I am not frightened. It is not by equalityof merit that you can be won. That is out of the question. It is hewho sees and worships your merit the strongest, who loves you mostdevotedly, that has the best right to a return. There I build myconfidence. By that right I do and will deserve you; and when onceconvinced that my attachment is what I declare it, I know you too wellnot to entertain the warmest hopes. Yes, dearest, sweetest Fanny. Nay"(seeing her draw back displeased), "forgive me. Perhaps I have as yetno right; but by what other name can I call you? Do you suppose you areever present to my imagination under any other? No, it is 'Fanny' thatI think of all day, and dream of all night. You have given the name suchreality of sweetness, that nothing else can now be descriptive of you."

  Fanny could hardly have kept her seat any longer, or have refrained fromat least trying to get away in spite of all the too public oppositionshe foresaw to it, had it not been for the sound of approaching relief,the very sound which she had been long watching for, and long thinkingstrangely delayed.

  The solemn procession, headed by Baddeley, of tea-board, urn, andcake-bearers, made its appearance, and delivered her from a grievousimprisonment of body and mind. Mr. Crawford was obliged to move. She wasat liberty, she was busy, she was protected.

  Edmund was not sorry to be admitted again among the number of those whomight speak and hear. But though the conference had seemed full long tohim, and though on looking at Fanny he saw rather a flush of vexation,he inclined to hope that so much could not have been said and listenedto without some profit to the speaker.

 
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