Mansfield park, p.41
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       Mansfield Park, p.41

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XLI

  A week was gone since Edmund might be supposed in town, and Fanny hadheard nothing of him. There were three different conclusions to be drawnfrom his silence, between which her mind was in fluctuation; each ofthem at times being held the most probable. Either his going had beenagain delayed, or he had yet procured no opportunity of seeing MissCrawford alone, or he was too happy for letter-writing!

  One morning, about this time, Fanny having now been nearly four weeksfrom Mansfield, a point which she never failed to think over andcalculate every day, as she and Susan were preparing to remove, asusual, upstairs, they were stopped by the knock of a visitor, whom theyfelt they could not avoid, from Rebecca's alertness in going to thedoor, a duty which always interested her beyond any other.

  It was a gentleman's voice; it was a voice that Fanny was just turningpale about, when Mr. Crawford walked into the room.

  Good sense, like hers, will always act when really called upon; and shefound that she had been able to name him to her mother, and recall herremembrance of the name, as that of "William's friend," though she couldnot previously have believed herself capable of uttering a syllableat such a moment. The consciousness of his being known there only asWilliam's friend was some support. Having introduced him, however, andbeing all reseated, the terrors that occurred of what this visit mightlead to were overpowering, and she fancied herself on the point offainting away.

  While trying to keep herself alive, their visitor, who had at firstapproached her with as animated a countenance as ever, was wisely andkindly keeping his eyes away, and giving her time to recover, while hedevoted himself entirely to her mother, addressing her, and attendingto her with the utmost politeness and propriety, at the same time witha degree of friendliness, of interest at least, which was making hismanner perfect.

  Mrs. Price's manners were also at their best. Warmed by the sight ofsuch a friend to her son, and regulated by the wish of appearing toadvantage before him, she was overflowing with gratitude--artless,maternal gratitude--which could not be unpleasing. Mr. Price was out,which she regretted very much. Fanny was just recovered enough tofeel that _she_ could not regret it; for to her many other sources ofuneasiness was added the severe one of shame for the home in which hefound her. She might scold herself for the weakness, but there was noscolding it away. She was ashamed, and she would have been yet moreashamed of her father than of all the rest.

  They talked of William, a subject on which Mrs. Price could never tire;and Mr. Crawford was as warm in his commendation as even her heart couldwish. She felt that she had never seen so agreeable a man in her life;and was only astonished to find that, so great and so agreeable as hewas, he should be come down to Portsmouth neither on a visit to theport-admiral, nor the commissioner, nor yet with the intention of goingover to the island, nor of seeing the dockyard. Nothing of all that shehad been used to think of as the proof of importance, or the employmentof wealth, had brought him to Portsmouth. He had reached it late thenight before, was come for a day or two, was staying at the Crown, hadaccidentally met with a navy officer or two of his acquaintance sincehis arrival, but had no object of that kind in coming.

  By the time he had given all this information, it was not unreasonableto suppose that Fanny might be looked at and spoken to; and she wastolerably able to bear his eye, and hear that he had spent half an hourwith his sister the evening before his leaving London; that she hadsent her best and kindest love, but had had no time for writing; that hethought himself lucky in seeing Mary for even half an hour, having spentscarcely twenty-four hours in London, after his return from Norfolk,before he set off again; that her cousin Edmund was in town, had been intown, he understood, a few days; that he had not seen him himself, butthat he was well, had left them all well at Mansfield, and was to dine,as yesterday, with the Frasers.

  Fanny listened collectedly, even to the last-mentioned circumstance;nay, it seemed a relief to her worn mind to be at any certainty; and thewords, "then by this time it is all settled," passed internally, withoutmore evidence of emotion than a faint blush.

  After talking a little more about Mansfield, a subject in which herinterest was most apparent, Crawford began to hint at the expediency ofan early walk. "It was a lovely morning, and at that season of the yeara fine morning so often turned off, that it was wisest for everybodynot to delay their exercise"; and such hints producing nothing, he soonproceeded to a positive recommendation to Mrs. Price and herdaughters to take their walk without loss of time. Now they came to anunderstanding. Mrs. Price, it appeared, scarcely ever stirred out ofdoors, except of a Sunday; she owned she could seldom, with her largefamily, find time for a walk. "Would she not, then, persuade herdaughters to take advantage of such weather, and allow him the pleasureof attending them?" Mrs. Price was greatly obliged and very complying."Her daughters were very much confined; Portsmouth was a sad place; theydid not often get out; and she knew they had some errands in the town,which they would be very glad to do." And the consequence was, thatFanny, strange as it was--strange, awkward, and distressing--foundherself and Susan, within ten minutes, walking towards the High Streetwith Mr. Crawford.

  It was soon pain upon pain, confusion upon confusion; for they werehardly in the High Street before they met her father, whoseappearance was not the better from its being Saturday. He stopt; and,ungentlemanlike as he looked, Fanny was obliged to introduce him to Mr.Crawford. She could not have a doubt of the manner in which Mr. Crawfordmust be struck. He must be ashamed and disgusted altogether. He mustsoon give her up, and cease to have the smallest inclination for thematch; and yet, though she had been so much wanting his affection tobe cured, this was a sort of cure that would be almost as bad as thecomplaint; and I believe there is scarcely a young lady in the UnitedKingdoms who would not rather put up with the misfortune of being soughtby a clever, agreeable man, than have him driven away by the vulgarityof her nearest relations.

  Mr. Crawford probably could not regard his future father-in-law with anyidea of taking him for a model in dress; but (as Fanny instantly, and toher great relief, discerned) her father was a very different man, avery different Mr. Price in his behaviour to this most highly respectedstranger, from what he was in his own family at home. His mannersnow, though not polished, were more than passable: they were grateful,animated, manly; his expressions were those of an attached father, anda sensible man; his loud tones did very well in the open air, and therewas not a single oath to be heard. Such was his instinctive complimentto the good manners of Mr. Crawford; and, be the consequence what itmight, Fanny's immediate feelings were infinitely soothed.

  The conclusion of the two gentlemen's civilities was an offer of Mr.Price's to take Mr. Crawford into the dockyard, which Mr. Crawford,desirous of accepting as a favour what was intended as such, thoughhe had seen the dockyard again and again, and hoping to be so much thelonger with Fanny, was very gratefully disposed to avail himself of, ifthe Miss Prices were not afraid of the fatigue; and as it was somehow orother ascertained, or inferred, or at least acted upon, that they werenot at all afraid, to the dockyard they were all to go; and but forMr. Crawford, Mr. Price would have turned thither directly, without thesmallest consideration for his daughters' errands in the High Street. Hetook care, however, that they should be allowed to go to the shops theycame out expressly to visit; and it did not delay them long, for Fannycould so little bear to excite impatience, or be waited for, that beforethe gentlemen, as they stood at the door, could do more than begin uponthe last naval regulations, or settle the number of three-deckers now incommission, their companions were ready to proceed.

  They were then to set forward for the dockyard at once, and the walkwould have been conducted--according to Mr. Crawford's opinion--in asingular manner, had Mr. Price been allowed the entire regulation of it,as the two girls, he found, would have been left to follow, and keep upwith them or not, as they could, while they walked on together at theirown hasty pace. He was able to introduce some improvement occasionally,though by
no means to the extent he wished; he absolutely would not walkaway from them; and at any crossing or any crowd, when Mr. Price wasonly calling out, "Come, girls; come, Fan; come, Sue, take care ofyourselves; keep a sharp lookout!" he would give them his particularattendance.

  Once fairly in the dockyard, he began to reckon upon some happyintercourse with Fanny, as they were very soon joined by a brotherlounger of Mr. Price's, who was come to take his daily survey of howthings went on, and who must prove a far more worthy companion thanhimself; and after a time the two officers seemed very well satisfiedgoing about together, and discussing matters of equal and never-failinginterest, while the young people sat down upon some timbers in the yard,or found a seat on board a vessel in the stocks which they all went tolook at. Fanny was most conveniently in want of rest. Crawford could nothave wished her more fatigued or more ready to sit down; but he couldhave wished her sister away. A quick-looking girl of Susan's age was thevery worst third in the world: totally different from Lady Bertram, alleyes and ears; and there was no introducing the main point before her.He must content himself with being only generally agreeable, and lettingSusan have her share of entertainment, with the indulgence, now andthen, of a look or hint for the better-informed and conscious Fanny.Norfolk was what he had mostly to talk of: there he had been some time,and everything there was rising in importance from his present schemes.Such a man could come from no place, no society, without importingsomething to amuse; his journeys and his acquaintance were all of use,and Susan was entertained in a way quite new to her. For Fanny, somewhatmore was related than the accidental agreeableness of the parties he hadbeen in. For her approbation, the particular reason of his going intoNorfolk at all, at this unusual time of year, was given. It had beenreal business, relative to the renewal of a lease in which the welfareof a large and--he believed--industrious family was at stake. He hadsuspected his agent of some underhand dealing; of meaning to biashim against the deserving; and he had determined to go himself, andthoroughly investigate the merits of the case. He had gone, had doneeven more good than he had foreseen, had been useful to more than hisfirst plan had comprehended, and was now able to congratulate himselfupon it, and to feel that in performing a duty, he had secured agreeablerecollections for his own mind. He had introduced himself to sometenants whom he had never seen before; he had begun making acquaintancewith cottages whose very existence, though on his own estate, had beenhitherto unknown to him. This was aimed, and well aimed, at Fanny. Itwas pleasing to hear him speak so properly; here he had been acting ashe ought to do. To be the friend of the poor and the oppressed! Nothingcould be more grateful to her; and she was on the point of giving him anapproving look, when it was all frightened off by his adding a somethingtoo pointed of his hoping soon to have an assistant, a friend, a guidein every plan of utility or charity for Everingham: a somebody thatwould make Everingham and all about it a dearer object than it had everbeen yet.

  She turned away, and wished he would not say such things. She waswilling to allow he might have more good qualities than she had beenwont to suppose. She began to feel the possibility of his turning outwell at last; but he was and must ever be completely unsuited to her,and ought not to think of her.

  He perceived that enough had been said of Everingham, and that it wouldbe as well to talk of something else, and turned to Mansfield. He couldnot have chosen better; that was a topic to bring back her attention andher looks almost instantly. It was a real indulgence to her to hear orto speak of Mansfield. Now so long divided from everybody who knew theplace, she felt it quite the voice of a friend when he mentioned it,and led the way to her fond exclamations in praise of its beauties andcomforts, and by his honourable tribute to its inhabitants allowed herto gratify her own heart in the warmest eulogium, in speaking of heruncle as all that was clever and good, and her aunt as having thesweetest of all sweet tempers.

  He had a great attachment to Mansfield himself; he said so; he lookedforward with the hope of spending much, very much, of his time there;always there, or in the neighbourhood. He particularly built upon a veryhappy summer and autumn there this year; he felt that it would be so: hedepended upon it; a summer and autumn infinitely superior to the last.As animated, as diversified, as social, but with circumstances ofsuperiority undescribable.

  "Mansfield, Sotherton, Thornton Lacey," he continued; "what a societywill be comprised in those houses! And at Michaelmas, perhaps, a fourthmay be added: some small hunting-box in the vicinity of everything sodear; for as to any partnership in Thornton Lacey, as Edmund Bertramonce good-humouredly proposed, I hope I foresee two objections: twofair, excellent, irresistible objections to that plan."

  Fanny was doubly silenced here; though when the moment was passed,could regret that she had not forced herself into the acknowledgedcomprehension of one half of his meaning, and encouraged him to saysomething more of his sister and Edmund. It was a subject which she mustlearn to speak of, and the weakness that shrunk from it would soon bequite unpardonable.

  When Mr. Price and his friend had seen all that they wished, or had timefor, the others were ready to return; and in the course of their walkback, Mr. Crawford contrived a minute's privacy for telling Fanny thathis only business in Portsmouth was to see her; that he was come downfor a couple of days on her account, and hers only, and because he couldnot endure a longer total separation. She was sorry, really sorry; andyet in spite of this and the two or three other things which she wishedhe had not said, she thought him altogether improved since she had seenhim; he was much more gentle, obliging, and attentive to other people'sfeelings than he had ever been at Mansfield; she had never seen him soagreeable--so _near_ being agreeable; his behaviour to her father couldnot offend, and there was something particularly kind and proper in thenotice he took of Susan. He was decidedly improved. She wished the nextday over, she wished he had come only for one day; but it was notso very bad as she would have expected: the pleasure of talking ofMansfield was so very great!

  Before they parted, she had to thank him for another pleasure, and oneof no trivial kind. Her father asked him to do them the honour of takinghis mutton with them, and Fanny had time for only one thrill of horror,before he declared himself prevented by a prior engagement. He wasengaged to dinner already both for that day and the next; he had metwith some acquaintance at the Crown who would not be denied; he shouldhave the honour, however, of waiting on them again on the morrow, etc.,and so they parted--Fanny in a state of actual felicity from escaping sohorrible an evil!

  To have had him join their family dinner-party, and see all theirdeficiencies, would have been dreadful! Rebecca's cookery and Rebecca'swaiting, and Betsey's eating at table without restraint, and pullingeverything about as she chose, were what Fanny herself was not yetenough inured to for her often to make a tolerable meal. _She_ was niceonly from natural delicacy, but _he_ had been brought up in a school ofluxury and epicurism.

 
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