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CHAPTER XII

Sir Thomas was to return in November, and his eldest
son had duties to call him earlier home. The approach
of September brought tidings of Mr. Bertram, first in a
letter to the gamekeeper and then in a letter to Edmund;
and by the end of August he arrived himself, to be gay,
agreeable, and gallant again as occasion served,
or Miss Crawford demanded; to tell of races and Weymouth,
and parties and friends, to which she might have listened
six weeks before with some interest, and altogether
to give her the fullest conviction, by the power
of actual comparison, of her preferring his younger brother.

It was very vexatious, and she was heartily sorry for it;
but so it was; and so far from now meaning to marry
the elder, she did not even want to attract him beyond
what the simplest claims of conscious beauty required:
his lengthened absence from Mansfield, without anything
but pleasure in view, and his own will to consult, made it
perfectly clear that he did not care about her; and his
indifference was so much more than equalled by her own,
that were he now to step forth the owner of Mansfield Park,
the Sir Thomas complete, which he was to be in time, she did
not believe she could accept him.

The season and duties which brought Mr. Bertram back to
Mansfield took Mr. Crawford into Norfolk. Everingham could
not do without him in the beginning of September. He went
for a fortnight--a fortnight of such dullness to the Miss
Bertrams as ought to have put them both on their guard,
and made even Julia admit, in her jealousy of her sister,
the absolute necessity of distrusting his attentions,
and wishing him not to return; and a fortnight of sufficient
leisure, in the intervals of shooting and sleeping, to have
convinced the gentleman that he ought to keep longer away,
had he been more in the habit of examining his own motives,
and of reflecting to what the indulgence of his idle vanity
was tending; but, thoughtless and selfish from prosperity
and bad example, he would not look beyond the present moment.
The sisters, handsome, clever, and encouraging, were an
amusement to his sated mind; and finding nothing in Norfolk
to equal the social pleasures of Mansfield, he gladly
returned to it at the time appointed, and was welcomed
thither quite as gladly by those whom he came to trifle with
further.

Maria, with only Mr. Rushworth to attend to her, and doomed
to the repeated details of his day's sport, good or bad,
his boast of his dogs, his jealousy of his neighbours,
his doubts of their qualifications, and his zeal after poachers,
subjects which will not find their way to female feelings
without some talent on one side or some attachment on
the other, had missed Mr. Crawford grievously; and Julia,
unengaged and unemployed, felt all the right of missing him
much more. Each sister believed herself the favourite.
Julia might be justified in so doing by the hints
of Mrs. Grant, inclined to credit what she wished,
and Maria by the hints of Mr. Crawford himself.
Everything returned into the same channel as before his absence;
his manners being to each so animated and agreeable
as to lose no ground with either, and just stopping short
of the consistence, the steadiness, the solicitude,
and the warmth which might excite general notice.

Fanny was the only one of the party who found anything
to dislike; but since the day at Sotherton, she could never
see Mr. Crawford with either sister without observation,
and seldom without wonder or censure; and had her
confidence in her own judgment been equal to her exercise
of it in every other respect, had she been sure that she
was seeing clearly, and judging candidly, she would
probably have made some important communications to her
usual confidant. As it was, however, she only hazarded
a hint, and the hint was lost. "I am rather surprised,"
said she, "that Mr. Crawford should come back again so soon,
after being here so long before, full seven weeks;
for I had understood he was so very fond of change and
moving about, that I thought something would certainly
occur, when he was once gone, to take him elsewhere.
He is used to much gayer places than Mansfield."

"It is to his credit," was Edmund's answer; "and I dare
say it gives his sister pleasure. She does not like his
unsettled habits."

"What a favourite he is with my cousins!"

"Yes, his manners to women are such as must please.
Mrs. Grant, I believe, suspects him of a preference for Julia;
I have never seen much symptom of it, but I wish it may
be so. He has no faults but what a serious attachment
would remove."

"If Miss Bertram were not engaged," said Fanny cautiously,
"I could sometimes almost think that he admired her more
than Julia."

"Which is, perhaps, more in favour of his liking
Julia best, than you, Fanny, may be aware; for I believe
it often happens that a man, before he has quite made up
his own mind, will distinguish the sister or intimate
friend of the woman he is really thinking of more than
the woman herself Crawford has too much sense to stay
here if he found himself in any danger from Maria;
and I am not at all afraid for her, after such a proof
as she has given that her feelings are not strong."

Fanny supposed she must have been mistaken, and meant to
think differently in future; but with all that submission
to Edmund could do, and all the help of the coinciding
looks and hints which she occasionally noticed in some
of the others, and which seemed to say that Julia was
Mr. Crawford's choice, she knew not always what to think.
She was privy, one evening, to the hopes of her aunt
Norris on the subject, as well as to her feelings,
and the feelings of Mrs. Rushworth, on a point of some
similarity, and could not help wondering as she listened;
and glad would she have been not to be obliged to listen,
for it was while all the other young people were dancing,
and she sitting, most unwillingly, among the chaperons at
the fire, longing for the re-entrance of her elder cousin,
on whom all her own hopes of a partner then depended.
It was Fanny's first ball, though without the preparation
or splendour of many a young lady's first ball, being the
thought only of the afternoon, built on the late acquisition
of a violin player in the servants' hall, and the possibility
of raising five couple with the help of Mrs. Grant and a new
intimate friend of Mr. Bertram's just arrived on a visit.
It had, however, been a very happy one to Fanny through
four dances, and she was quite grieved to be losing
even a quarter of an hour. While waiting and wishing,
looking now at the dancers and now at the door, this dialogue
between the two above-mentioned ladies was forced on her--

"I think, ma'am," said Mrs. Norris, her eyes directed
towards Mr. Rushworth and Maria, who were partners for
the second time, "we shall see some happy faces again now."

"Yes, ma'am, indeed," replied the other, with a stately simper,
"there will be some satisfaction in looking on _now_,
and I think it was rather a pity they should have been
obliged to part. Young folks in their situation
should be excused complying with the common forms.
I wonder my son did not propose it."

"I dare say he did, ma'am. Mr. Rushworth is never remiss.
But dear Maria has such a strict sense of propriety, so much
of that true delicacy which one seldom meets with nowadays,
Mrs. Rushworth--that wish of avoiding particularity!
Dear ma'am, only look at her face at this moment;
how different from what it was the two last dances!"

Miss Bertram did indeed look happy, her eyes were
sparkling with pleasure, and she was speaking with
great animation, for Julia and her partner, Mr. Crawford,
were close to her; they were all in a cluster together.
How she had looked before, Fanny could not recollect,
for she had been dancing with Edmund herself, and had
not thought about her.

Mrs. Norris continued, "It is quite delightful, ma'am, to
see young people so properly happy, so well suited,
and so much the thing! I cannot but think of dear Sir
Thomas's delight. And what do you say, ma'am, to the chance
of another match? Mr. Rushworth has set a good example,
and such things are very catching."

Mrs. Rushworth, who saw nothing but her son, was quite
at a loss.

"The couple above, ma'am. Do you see no symptoms there?"

"Oh dear! Miss Julia and Mr. Crawford. Yes, indeed,
a very pretty match. What is his property?"

"Four thousand a year."

"Very well. Those who have not more must be satisfied with
what they have. Four thousand a year is a pretty estate,
and he seems a very genteel, steady young man, so I hope
Miss Julia will be very happy."

"It is not a settled thing, ma'am, yet. We only speak of it
among friends. But I have very little doubt it _will_ be.
He is growing extremely particular in his attentions."

Fanny could listen no farther. Listening and wondering were all
suspended for a time, for Mr. Bertram was in the room again;
and though feeling it would be a great honour to be asked
by him, she thought it must happen. He came towards
their little circle; but instead of asking her to dance,
drew a chair near her, and gave her an account of the present
state of a sick horse, and the opinion of the groom,
from whom he had just parted. Fanny found that it was
not to be, and in the modesty of her nature immediately
felt that she had been unreasonable in expecting it.
When he had told of his horse, he took a newspaper from
the table, and looking over it, said in a languid way,
"If you want to dance, Fanny, I will stand up with you."
With more than equal civility the offer was declined;
she did not wish to dance. "I am glad of it," said he,
in a much brisker tone, and throwing down the newspaper
again, "for I am tired to death. I only wonder how
the good people can keep it up so long. They had need
be _all_ in love, to find any amusement in such folly;
and so they are, I fancy. If you look at them you may
see they are so many couple of lovers--all but Yates
and Mrs. Grant--and, between ourselves, she, poor woman,
must want a lover as much as any one of them. A desperate
dull life hers must be with the doctor," making a sly face
as he spoke towards the chair of the latter, who proving,
however, to be close at his elbow, made so instantaneous
a change of expression and subject necessary, as Fanny,
in spite of everything, could hardly help laughing at.
"A strange business this in America, Dr. Grant! What is
your opinion? I always come to you to know what I am to
think of public matters."

"My dear Tom," cried his aunt soon afterwards, "as you
are not dancing, I dare say you will have no objection
to join us in a rubber; shall you?" Then leaving her seat,
and coming to him to enforce the proposal, added in
a whisper, "We want to make a table for Mrs. Rushworth,
you know. Your mother is quite anxious about it,
but cannot very well spare time to sit down herself,
because of her fringe. Now, you and I and Dr. Grant will
just do; and though _we_ play but half-crowns, you know,
you may bet half-guineas with _him_."

"I should be most happy," replied he aloud, and jumping up
with alacrity, "it would give me the greatest pleasure;
but that I am this moment going to dance." Come, Fanny,
taking her hand, "do not be dawdling any longer,
or the dance will be over."

Fanny was led off very willingly, though it was impossible
for her to feel much gratitude towards her cousin,
or distinguish, as he certainly did, between the selfishness
of another person and his own.

"A pretty modest request upon my word," he indignantly
exclaimed as they walked away. "To want to nail me
to a card-table for the next two hours with herself and
Dr. Grant, who are always quarrelling, and that poking
old woman, who knows no more of whist than of algebra.
I wish my good aunt would be a little less busy! And to ask
me in such a way too! without ceremony, before them all,
so as to leave me no possibility of refusing. _That_ is
what I dislike most particularly. It raises my spleen
more than anything, to have the pretence of being asked,
of being given a choice, and at the same time addressed
in such a way as to oblige one to do the very thing,
whatever it be! If I had not luckily thought of standing
up with you I could not have got out of it. It is a great
deal too bad. But when my aunt has got a fancy in her head,
nothing can stop her."




Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
Book Review:
“Mansfield Park” is the most condensed and complex novel ever written by Jane Austen, and is her first novel that was conceived, written, and published at her mature years. Even though it lacks in the playful ironic humor which is so characteristic of Austen’s other novels, it is the novel that most clearly shows another aspect of the writer
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