Mansfield park, p.42
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       Mansfield Park, p.42

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XLII

  The Prices were just setting off for church the next day when Mr.Crawford appeared again. He came, not to stop, but to join them; he wasasked to go with them to the Garrison chapel, which was exactly what hehad intended, and they all walked thither together.

  The family were now seen to advantage. Nature had given them noinconsiderable share of beauty, and every Sunday dressed them in theircleanest skins and best attire. Sunday always brought this comfort toFanny, and on this Sunday she felt it more than ever. Her poor mothernow did not look so very unworthy of being Lady Bertram's sister as shewas but too apt to look. It often grieved her to the heart to think ofthe contrast between them; to think that where nature had made so littledifference, circumstances should have made so much, and that her mother,as handsome as Lady Bertram, and some years her junior, should have anappearance so much more worn and faded, so comfortless, so slatternly,so shabby. But Sunday made her a very creditable and tolerablycheerful-looking Mrs. Price, coming abroad with a fine family ofchildren, feeling a little respite of her weekly cares, and onlydiscomposed if she saw her boys run into danger, or Rebecca pass by witha flower in her hat.

  In chapel they were obliged to divide, but Mr. Crawford took care not tobe divided from the female branch; and after chapel he still continuedwith them, and made one in the family party on the ramparts.

  Mrs. Price took her weekly walk on the ramparts every fine Sundaythroughout the year, always going directly after morning service andstaying till dinner-time. It was her public place: there she met heracquaintance, heard a little news, talked over the badness of thePortsmouth servants, and wound up her spirits for the six days ensuing.

  Thither they now went; Mr. Crawford most happy to consider the MissPrices as his peculiar charge; and before they had been there long,somehow or other, there was no saying how, Fanny could not have believedit, but he was walking between them with an arm of each under his,and she did not know how to prevent or put an end to it. It made heruncomfortable for a time, but yet there were enjoyments in the day andin the view which would be felt.

  The day was uncommonly lovely. It was really March; but it was April inits mild air, brisk soft wind, and bright sun, occasionally clouded fora minute; and everything looked so beautiful under the influence of sucha sky, the effects of the shadows pursuing each other on the ships atSpithead and the island beyond, with the ever-varying hues of the sea,now at high water, dancing in its glee and dashing against the rampartswith so fine a sound, produced altogether such a combination of charmsfor Fanny, as made her gradually almost careless of the circumstancesunder which she felt them. Nay, had she been without his arm, she wouldsoon have known that she needed it, for she wanted strength for a twohours' saunter of this kind, coming, as it generally did, upon a week'sprevious inactivity. Fanny was beginning to feel the effect of beingdebarred from her usual regular exercise; she had lost ground as tohealth since her being in Portsmouth; and but for Mr. Crawford and thebeauty of the weather would soon have been knocked up now.

  The loveliness of the day, and of the view, he felt like herself. Theyoften stopt with the same sentiment and taste, leaning against the wall,some minutes, to look and admire; and considering he was not Edmund,Fanny could not but allow that he was sufficiently open to the charmsof nature, and very well able to express his admiration. She had a fewtender reveries now and then, which he could sometimes take advantageof to look in her face without detection; and the result of these lookswas, that though as bewitching as ever, her face was less blooming thanit ought to be. She _said_ she was very well, and did not like to besupposed otherwise; but take it all in all, he was convinced that herpresent residence could not be comfortable, and therefore could notbe salutary for her, and he was growing anxious for her being again atMansfield, where her own happiness, and his in seeing her, must be somuch greater.

  "You have been here a month, I think?" said he.

  "No; not quite a month. It is only four weeks to-morrow since I leftMansfield."

  "You are a most accurate and honest reckoner. I should call that amonth."

  "I did not arrive here till Tuesday evening."

  "And it is to be a two months' visit, is not?"

  "Yes. My uncle talked of two months. I suppose it will not be less."

  "And how are you to be conveyed back again? Who comes for you?"

  "I do not know. I have heard nothing about it yet from my aunt. PerhapsI may be to stay longer. It may not be convenient for me to be fetchedexactly at the two months' end."

  After a moment's reflection, Mr. Crawford replied, "I know Mansfield, Iknow its way, I know its faults towards _you_. I know the danger ofyour being so far forgotten, as to have your comforts give way to theimaginary convenience of any single being in the family. I am awarethat you may be left here week after week, if Sir Thomas cannot settleeverything for coming himself, or sending your aunt's maid for you,without involving the slightest alteration of the arrangements which hemay have laid down for the next quarter of a year. This will not do. Twomonths is an ample allowance; I should think six weeks quite enough.I am considering your sister's health," said he, addressing himself toSusan, "which I think the confinement of Portsmouth unfavourable to. Sherequires constant air and exercise. When you know her as well as I do,I am sure you will agree that she does, and that she ought never tobe long banished from the free air and liberty of the country. If,therefore" (turning again to Fanny), "you find yourself growing unwell,and any difficulties arise about your returning to Mansfield, withoutwaiting for the two months to be ended, _that_ must not be regardedas of any consequence, if you feel yourself at all less strong orcomfortable than usual, and will only let my sister know it, give heronly the slightest hint, she and I will immediately come down, and takeyou back to Mansfield. You know the ease and the pleasure with whichthis would be done. You know all that would be felt on the occasion."

  Fanny thanked him, but tried to laugh it off.

  "I am perfectly serious," he replied, "as you perfectly know. And Ihope you will not be cruelly concealing any tendency to indisposition.Indeed, you shall _not_; it shall not be in your power; for so long onlyas you positively say, in every letter to Mary, 'I am well,' and Iknow you cannot speak or write a falsehood, so long only shall you beconsidered as well."

  Fanny thanked him again, but was affected and distressed to a degreethat made it impossible for her to say much, or even to be certain ofwhat she ought to say. This was towards the close of their walk. Heattended them to the last, and left them only at the door of their ownhouse, when he knew them to be going to dinner, and therefore pretendedto be waited for elsewhere.

  "I wish you were not so tired," said he, still detaining Fanny after allthe others were in the house--"I wish I left you in stronger health. Isthere anything I can do for you in town? I have half an idea of goinginto Norfolk again soon. I am not satisfied about Maddison. I am surehe still means to impose on me if possible, and get a cousin of his owninto a certain mill, which I design for somebody else. I must come to anunderstanding with him. I must make him know that I will not be trickedon the south side of Everingham, any more than on the north: that I willbe master of my own property. I was not explicit enough with him before.The mischief such a man does on an estate, both as to the credit of hisemployer and the welfare of the poor, is inconceivable. I have a greatmind to go back into Norfolk directly, and put everything at once onsuch a footing as cannot be afterwards swerved from. Maddison is aclever fellow; I do not wish to displace him, provided he does not tryto displace _me_; but it would be simple to be duped by a man who has noright of creditor to dupe me, and worse than simple to let him give me ahard-hearted, griping fellow for a tenant, instead of an honest man,to whom I have given half a promise already. Would it not be worse thansimple? Shall I go? Do you advise it?"

  "I advise! You know very well what is right."

  "Yes. When you give me your opinion, I always know what is right. Yourjudgment is my rule of right."

&nbs
p; "Oh, no! do not say so. We have all a better guide in ourselves, if wewould attend to it, than any other person can be. Good-bye; I wish you apleasant journey to-morrow."

  "Is there nothing I can do for you in town?"

  "Nothing; I am much obliged to you."

  "Have you no message for anybody?"

  "My love to your sister, if you please; and when you see my cousin, mycousin Edmund, I wish you would be so good as to say that I suppose Ishall soon hear from him."

  "Certainly; and if he is lazy or negligent, I will write his excusesmyself."

  He could say no more, for Fanny would be no longer detained. He pressedher hand, looked at her, and was gone. _He_ went to while away the nextthree hours as he could, with his other acquaintance, till the bestdinner that a capital inn afforded was ready for their enjoyment, and_she_ turned in to her more simple one immediately.

  Their general fare bore a very different character; and could he havesuspected how many privations, besides that of exercise, she endured inher father's house, he would have wondered that her looks were not muchmore affected than he found them. She was so little equal to Rebecca'spuddings and Rebecca's hashes, brought to table, as they all were, withsuch accompaniments of half-cleaned plates, and not half-cleaned knivesand forks, that she was very often constrained to defer her heartiestmeal till she could send her brothers in the evening for biscuits andbuns. After being nursed up at Mansfield, it was too late in the dayto be hardened at Portsmouth; and though Sir Thomas, had he known all,might have thought his niece in the most promising way of being starved,both mind and body, into a much juster value for Mr. Crawford's goodcompany and good fortune, he would probably have feared to push hisexperiment farther, lest she might die under the cure.

  Fanny was out of spirits all the rest of the day. Though tolerablysecure of not seeing Mr. Crawford again, she could not help being low.It was parting with somebody of the nature of a friend; and though, inone light, glad to have him gone, it seemed as if she was now desertedby everybody; it was a sort of renewed separation from Mansfield; andshe could not think of his returning to town, and being frequently withMary and Edmund, without feelings so near akin to envy as made her hateherself for having them.

  Her dejection had no abatement from anything passing around her; afriend or two of her father's, as always happened if he was not withthem, spent the long, long evening there; and from six o'clock tillhalf-past nine, there was little intermission of noise or grog. Shewas very low. The wonderful improvement which she still fancied in Mr.Crawford was the nearest to administering comfort of anything within thecurrent of her thoughts. Not considering in how different a circle shehad been just seeing him, nor how much might be owing to contrast, shewas quite persuaded of his being astonishingly more gentle and regardfulof others than formerly. And, if in little things, must it not be so ingreat? So anxious for her health and comfort, so very feeling as he nowexpressed himself, and really seemed, might not it be fairly supposedthat he would not much longer persevere in a suit so distressing to her?

 
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