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CHAPTER XXVI

William's desire of seeing Fanny dance made more than a
momentary impression on his uncle. The hope of an opportunity,
which Sir Thomas had then given, was not given to be thought
of no more. He remained steadily inclined to gratify
so amiable a feeling; to gratify anybody else who might
wish to see Fanny dance, and to give pleasure to the young
people in general; and having thought the matter over,
and taken his resolution in quiet independence,
the result of it appeared the next morning at breakfast,
when, after recalling and commending what his nephew
had said, he added, "I do not like, William, that you
should leave Northamptonshire without this indulgence.
It would give me pleasure to see you both dance.
You spoke of the balls at Northampton. Your cousins have
occasionally attended them; but they would not altogether
suit us now. The fatigue would be too much for your aunt.
I believe we must not think of a Northampton ball.
A dance at home would be more eligible; and if--"

"Ah, my dear Sir Thomas!" interrupted Mrs. Norris, "I knew
what was coming. I knew what you were going to say. If dear
Julia were at home, or dearest Mrs. Rushworth at Sotherton,
to afford a reason, an occasion for such a thing, you would
be tempted to give the young people a dance at Mansfield.
I know you would. If _they_ were at home to grace
the ball, a ball you would have this very Christmas.
Thank your uncle, William, thank your uncle!"

"My daughters," replied Sir Thomas, gravely interposing,
"have their pleasures at Brighton, and I hope are very happy;
but the dance which I think of giving at Mansfield
will be for their cousins. Could we be all assembled,
our satisfaction would undoubtedly be more complete,
but the absence of some is not to debar the others
of amusement."

Mrs. Norris had not another word to say. She saw decision
in his looks, and her surprise and vexation required
some minutes' silence to be settled into composure.
A ball at such a time! His daughters absent and herself
not consulted! There was comfort, however, soon at hand.
_She_ must be the doer of everything: Lady Bertram
would of course be spared all thought and exertion,
and it would all fall upon _her_. She should have to do
the honours of the evening; and this reflection quickly
restored so much of her good-humour as enabled her to join
in with the others, before their happiness and thanks were
all expressed.

Edmund, William, and Fanny did, in their different ways,
look and speak as much grateful pleasure in the promised
ball as Sir Thomas could desire. Edmund's feelings
were for the other two. His father had never conferred
a favour or shewn a kindness more to his satisfaction.

Lady Bertram was perfectly quiescent and contented,
and had no objections to make. Sir Thomas engaged
for its giving her very little trouble; and she assured
him "that she was not at all afraid of the trouble;
indeed, she could not imagine there would be any."

Mrs. Norris was ready with her suggestions as to the rooms he
would think fittest to be used, but found it all prearranged;
and when she would have conjectured and hinted about
the day, it appeared that the day was settled too.
Sir Thomas had been amusing himself with shaping a very
complete outline of the business; and as soon as she
would listen quietly, could read his list of the families
to be invited, from whom he calculated, with all necessary
allowance for the shortness of the notice, to collect
young people enough to form twelve or fourteen couple:
and could detail the considerations which had induced
him to fix on the 22nd as the most eligible day.
William was required to be at Portsmouth on the 24th;
the 22nd would therefore be the last day of his visit;
but where the days were so few it would be unwise to fix
on any earlier. Mrs. Norris was obliged to be satisfied
with thinking just the same, and with having been on the
point of proposing the 22nd herself, as by far the best day
for the purpose.

The ball was now a settled thing, and before the evening
a proclaimed thing to all whom it concerned. Invitations were
sent with despatch, and many a young lady went to bed that
night with her head full of happy cares as well as Fanny.
To her the cares were sometimes almost beyond the happiness;
for young and inexperienced, with small means of choice
and no confidence in her own taste, the "how she
should be dressed" was a point of painful solicitude;
and the almost solitary ornament in her possession,
a very pretty amber cross which William had brought
her from Sicily, was the greatest distress of all,
for she had nothing but a bit of ribbon to fasten it to;
and though she had worn it in that manner once, would it
be allowable at such a time in the midst of all the rich
ornaments which she supposed all the other young ladies
would appear in? And yet not to wear it! William had
wanted to buy her a gold chain too, but the purchase had
been beyond his means, and therefore not to wear the cross
might be mortifying him. These were anxious considerations;
enough to sober her spirits even under the prospect
of a ball given principally for her gratification.

The preparations meanwhile went on, and Lady Bertram continued
to sit on her sofa without any inconvenience from them.
She had some extra visits from the housekeeper, and her
maid was rather hurried in making up a new dress for her:
Sir Thomas gave orders, and Mrs. Norris ran about;
but all this gave _her_ no trouble, and as she had foreseen,
"there was, in fact, no trouble in the business."

Edmund was at this time particularly full of cares:
his mind being deeply occupied in the consideration of two
important events now at hand, which were to fix his fate
in life--ordination and matrimony--events of such a serious
character as to make the ball, which would be very quickly
followed by one of them, appear of less moment in his
eyes than in those of any other person in the house.
On the 23rd he was going to a friend near Peterborough,
in the same situation as himself, and they were to
receive ordination in the course of the Christmas week.
Half his destiny would then be determined, but the other
half might not be so very smoothly wooed. His duties would
be established, but the wife who was to share, and animate,
and reward those duties, might yet be unattainable.
He knew his own mind, but he was not always perfectly assured
of knowing Miss Crawford's. There were points on which they
did not quite agree; there were moments in which she did
not seem propitious; and though trusting altogether to
her affection, so far as to be resolved--almost resolved--
on bringing it to a decision within a very short time,
as soon as the variety of business before him were arranged,
and he knew what he had to offer her, he had many
anxious feelings, many doubting hours as to the result.
His conviction of her regard for him was sometimes very strong;
he could look back on a long course of encouragement,
and she was as perfect in disinterested attachment as
in everything else. But at other times doubt and alarm
intermingled with his hopes; and when he thought of her
acknowledged disinclination for privacy and retirement,
her decided preference of a London life, what could he expect
but a determined rejection? unless it were an acceptance
even more to be deprecated, demanding such sacrifices
of situation and employment on his side as conscience
must forbid.

The issue of all depended on one question. Did she
love him well enough to forego what had used to be
essential points? Did she love him well enough to make
them no longer essential? And this question, which he
was continually repeating to himself, though oftenest
answered with a "Yes," had sometimes its "No."

Miss Crawford was soon to leave Mansfield, and on this
circumstance the "no" and the "yes" had been very recently
in alternation. He had seen her eyes sparkle as she spoke
of the dear friend's letter, which claimed a long visit from
her in London, and of the kindness of Henry, in engaging
to remain where he was till January, that he might convey
her thither; he had heard her speak of the pleasure of such
a journey with an animation which had "no" in every tone.
But this had occurred on the first day of its being settled,
within the first hour of the burst of such enjoyment,
when nothing but the friends she was to visit was before her.
He had since heard her express herself differently,
with other feelings, more chequered feelings: he had heard
her tell Mrs. Grant that she should leave her with regret;
that she began to believe neither the friends nor
the pleasures she was going to were worth those she
left behind; and that though she felt she must go,
and knew she should enjoy herself when once away, she was
already looking forward to being at Mansfield again.
Was there not a "yes" in all this?

With such matters to ponder over, and arrange, and re-arrange,
Edmund could not, on his own account, think very much
of the evening which the rest of the family were looking
forward to with a more equal degree of strong interest.
Independent of his two cousins' enjoyment in it,
the evening was to him of no higher value than any
other appointed meeting of the two families might be.
In every meeting there was a hope of receiving farther
confirmation of Miss Crawford's attachment; but the whirl
of a ballroom, perhaps, was not particularly favourable
to the excitement or expression of serious feelings.
To engage her early for the two first dances was all the
command of individual happiness which he felt in his power,
and the only preparation for the ball which he could
enter into, in spite of all that was passing around him
on the subject, from morning till night.

Thursday was the day of the ball; and on Wednesday
morning Fanny, still unable to satisfy herself as to what
she ought to wear, determined to seek the counsel of the
more enlightened, and apply to Mrs. Grant and her sister,
whose acknowledged taste would certainly bear her blameless;
and as Edmund and William were gone to Northampton,
and she had reason to think Mr. Crawford likewise out,
she walked down to the Parsonage without much fear of wanting
an opportunity for private discussion; and the privacy of
such a discussion was a most important part of it to Fanny,
being more than half-ashamed of her own solicitude.

She met Miss Crawford within a few yards of the Parsonage,
just setting out to call on her, and as it seemed to her
that her friend, though obliged to insist on turning back,
was unwilling to lose her walk, she explained her business
at once, and observed, that if she would be so kind
as to give her opinion, it might be all talked over as
well without doors as within. Miss Crawford appeared
gratified by the application, and after a moment's thought,
urged Fanny's returning with her in a much more cordial
manner than before, and proposed their going up into
her room, where they might have a comfortable coze,
without disturbing Dr. and Mrs. Grant, who were together
in the drawing-room. It was just the plan to suit Fanny;
and with a great deal of gratitude on her side for such ready
and kind attention, they proceeded indoors, and upstairs,
and were soon deep in the interesting subject. Miss Crawford,
pleased with the appeal, gave her all her best judgment
and taste, made everything easy by her suggestions,
and tried to make everything agreeable by her encouragement.
The dress being settled in all its grander parts--
"But what shall you have by way of necklace?" said Miss
Crawford. "Shall not you wear your brother's cross?"
And as she spoke she was undoing a small parcel,
which Fanny had observed in her hand when they met.
Fanny acknowledged her wishes and doubts on this point:
she did not know how either to wear the cross, or to
refrain from wearing it. She was answered by having
a small trinket-box placed before her, and being requested
to chuse from among several gold chains and necklaces.
Such had been the parcel with which Miss Crawford
was provided, and such the object of her intended visit:
and in the kindest manner she now urged Fanny's taking one
for the cross and to keep for her sake, saying everything
she could think of to obviate the scruples which were
making Fanny start back at first with a look of horror at
the proposal.

"You see what a collection I have," said she; "more by half
than I ever use or think of. I do not offer them as new.
I offer nothing but an old necklace. You must forgive
the liberty, and oblige me."

Fanny still resisted, and from her heart. The gift was
too valuable. But Miss Crawford persevered, and argued
the case with so much affectionate earnestness through
all the heads of William and the cross, and the ball,
and herself, as to be finally successful. Fanny found
herself obliged to yield, that she might not be accused
of pride or indifference, or some other littleness;
and having with modest reluctance given her consent,
proceeded to make the selection. She looked and looked,
longing to know which might be least valuable; and was
determined in her choice at last, by fancying there was
one necklace more frequently placed before her eyes than
the rest. It was of gold, prettily worked; and though Fanny
would have preferred a longer and a plainer chain as more
adapted for her purpose, she hoped, in fixing on this,
to be chusing what Miss Crawford least wished to keep.
Miss Crawford smiled her perfect approbation; and hastened
to complete the gift by putting the necklace round her,
and making her see how well it looked. Fanny had not a
word to say against its becomingness, and, excepting what
remained of her scruples, was exceedingly pleased with an
acquisition so very apropos. She would rather, perhaps,
have been obliged to some other person. But this was
an unworthy feeling. Miss Crawford had anticipated her
wants with a kindness which proved her a real friend.
"When I wear this necklace I shall always think of you,"
said she, "and feel how very kind you were."

"You must think of somebody else too, when you wear
that necklace," replied Miss Crawford. "You must think
of Henry, for it was his choice in the first place.
He gave it to me, and with the necklace I make over
to you all the duty of remembering the original giver.
It is to be a family remembrancer. The sister is not to be
in your mind without bringing the brother too."

Fanny, in great astonishment and confusion, would have
returned the present instantly. To take what had
been the gift of another person, of a brother too,
impossible! it must not be! and with an eagerness and
embarrassment quite diverting to her companion, she laid
down the necklace again on its cotton, and seemed resolved
either to take another or none at all. Miss Crawford
thought she had never seen a prettier consciousness.
"My dear child," said she, laughing, "what are you afraid of?
Do you think Henry will claim the necklace as mine,
and fancy you did not come honestly by it? or are you
imagining he would be too much flattered by seeing
round your lovely throat an ornament which his money
purchased three years ago, before he knew there was such
a throat in the world? or perhaps"--looking archly--
"you suspect a confederacy between us, and that what
I am now doing is with his knowledge and at his desire?"

With the deepest blushes Fanny protested against such
a thought.

"Well, then," replied Miss Crawford more seriously,
but without at all believing her, "to convince me that you
suspect no trick, and are as unsuspicious of compliment
as I have always found you, take the necklace and say
no more about it. Its being a gift of my brother's need
not make the smallest difference in your accepting it,
as I assure you it makes none in my willingness to part
with it. He is always giving me something or other.
I have such innumerable presents from him that it is quite
impossible for me to value or for him to remember half.
And as for this necklace, I do not suppose I have worn it
six times: it is very pretty, but I never think of it;
and though you would be most heartily welcome to any
other in my trinket-box, you have happened to fix on
the very one which, if I have a choice, I would rather
part with and see in your possession than any other.
Say no more against it, I entreat you. Such a trifle is
not worth half so many words."

Fanny dared not make any farther opposition; and with
renewed but less happy thanks accepted the necklace again,
for there was an expression in Miss Crawford's eyes
which she could not be satisfied with.

It was impossible for her to be insensible of Mr. Crawford's
change of manners. She had long seen it. He evidently
tried to please her: he was gallant, he was attentive,
he was something like what he had been to her cousins:
he wanted, she supposed, to cheat her of her tranquillity
as he had cheated them; and whether he might not have some
concern in this necklace--she could not be convinced that
he had not, for Miss Crawford, complaisant as a sister,
was careless as a woman and a friend.

Reflecting and doubting, and feeling that the possession
of what she had so much wished for did not bring much
satisfaction, she now walked home again, with a change rather
than a diminution of cares since her treading that path before




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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