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CHAPTER XXVII

On reaching home Fanny went immediately upstairs to
deposit this unexpected acquisition, this doubtful good
of a necklace, in some favourite box in the East room,
which held all her smaller treasures; but on opening
the door, what was her surprise to find her cousin Edmund
there writing at the table! Such a sight having never
occurred before, was almost as wonderful as it was welcome.

"Fanny," said he directly, leaving his seat and his pen,
and meeting her with something in his hand, "I beg
your pardon for being here. I came to look for you,
and after waiting a little while in hope of your coming in,
was making use of your inkstand to explain my errand.
You will find the beginning of a note to yourself;
but I can now speak my business, which is merely to beg
your acceptance of this little trifle--a chain for
William's cross. You ought to have had it a week ago,
but there has been a delay from my brother's not
being in town by several days so soon as I expected;
and I have only just now received it at Northampton.
I hope you will like the chain itself, Fanny. I endeavoured
to consult the simplicity of your taste; but, at any rate,
I know you will be kind to my intentions, and consider it,
as it really is, a token of the love of one of your
oldest friends."

And so saying, he was hurrying away, before Fanny,
overpowered by a thousand feelings of pain and pleasure,
could attempt to speak; but quickened by one sovereign wish,
she then called out, "Oh! cousin, stop a moment,
pray stop!"

He turned back.

"I cannot attempt to thank you," she continued, in a
very agitated manner; "thanks are out of the question.
I feel much more than I can possibly express.
Your goodness in thinking of me in such a way is beyond--
"

"If that is all you have to say, Fanny" smiling and turning
away again.

"No, no, it is not. I want to consult you."

Almost unconsciously she had now undone the parcel he
had just put into her hand, and seeing before her,
in all the niceness of jewellers' packing, a plain
gold chain, perfectly simple and neat, she could not help
bursting forth again, "Oh, this is beautiful indeed!
This is the very thing, precisely what I wished for!
This is the only ornament I have ever had a desire to possess.
It will exactly suit my cross. They must and shall be
worn together. It comes, too, in such an acceptable moment.
Oh, cousin, you do not know how acceptable it is."

"My dear Fanny, you feel these things a great deal too much.
I am most happy that you like the chain, and that it
should be here in time for to-morrow; but your thanks are
far beyond the occasion. Believe me, I have no pleasure
in the world superior to that of contributing to yours.
No, I can safely say, I have no pleasure so complete,
so unalloyed. It is without a drawback."

Upon such expressions of affection Fanny could have
lived an hour without saying another word; but Edmund,
after waiting a moment, obliged her to bring down her
mind from its heavenly flight by saying, "But what is it
that you want to consult me about?"

It was about the necklace, which she was now most earnestly
longing to return, and hoped to obtain his approbation
of her doing. She gave the history of her recent visit,
and now her raptures might well be over; for Edmund was so
struck with the circumstance, so delighted with what Miss
Crawford had done, so gratified by such a coincidence
of conduct between them, that Fanny could not but admit
the superior power of one pleasure over his own mind,
though it might have its drawback. It was some time
before she could get his attention to her plan, or any
answer to her demand of his opinion: he was in a reverie
of fond reflection, uttering only now and then a few
half-sentences of praise; but when he did awake and understand,
he was very decided in opposing what she wished.

"Return the necklace! No, my dear Fanny, upon no account.
It would be mortifying her severely. There can hardly
be a more unpleasant sensation than the having anything
returned on our hands which we have given with a reasonable
hope of its contributing to the comfort of a friend.
Why should she lose a pleasure which she has shewn herself
so deserving of?"

"If it had been given to me in the first instance,"
said Fanny, "I should not have thought of returning it;
but being her brother's present, is not it fair to suppose
that she would rather not part with it, when it is
not wanted?"

"She must not suppose it not wanted, not acceptable,
at least: and its having been originally her brother's
gift makes no difference; for as she was not prevented
from offering, nor you from taking it on that account,
it ought not to prevent you from keeping it. No doubt it
is handsomer than mine, and fitter for a ballroom."

"No, it is not handsomer, not at all handsomer
in its way, and, for my purpose, not half so fit.
The chain will agree with William's cross beyond
all comparison better than the necklace."

"For one night, Fanny, for only one night, if it _be_
a sacrifice; I am sure you will, upon consideration,
make that sacrifice rather than give pain to one who has been
so studious of your comfort. Miss Crawford's attentions
to you have been--not more than you were justly entitled to--
I am the last person to think that _could_ _be_,
but they have been invariable; and to be returning them
with what must have something the _air_ of ingratitude,
though I know it could never have the _meaning_, is not
in your nature, I am sure. Wear the necklace, as you
are engaged to do, to-morrow evening, and let the chain,
which was not ordered with any reference to the ball,
be kept for commoner occasions. This is my advice.
I would not have the shadow of a coolness between the two whose
intimacy I have been observing with the greatest pleasure,
and in whose characters there is so much general resemblance
in true generosity and natural delicacy as to make the few
slight differences, resulting principally from situation,
no reasonable hindrance to a perfect friendship. I would
not have the shadow of a coolness arise," he repeated,
his voice sinking a little, "between the two dearest objects
I have on earth."

He was gone as he spoke; and Fanny remained to tranquillise
herself as she could. She was one of his two dearest--
that must support her. But the other: the first!
She had never heard him speak so openly before, and though
it told her no more than what she had long perceived,
it was a stab, for it told of his own convictions and views.
They were decided. He would marry Miss Crawford.
It was a stab, in spite of every long-standing expectation;
and she was obliged to repeat again and again, that she
was one of his two dearest, before the words gave
her any sensation. Could she believe Miss Crawford to
deserve him, it would be--oh, how different would it be--
how far more tolerable! But he was deceived in her:
he gave her merits which she had not; her faults were
what they had ever been, but he saw them no longer.
Till she had shed many tears over this deception,
Fanny could not subdue her agitation; and the dejection
which followed could only be relieved by the influence of
fervent prayers for his happiness.

It was her intention, as she felt it to be her duty,
to try to overcome all that was excessive, all that
bordered on selfishness, in her affection for Edmund.
To call or to fancy it a loss, a disappointment, would be
a presumption for which she had not words strong enough to
satisfy her own humility. To think of him as Miss Crawford
might be justified in thinking, would in her be insanity.
To her he could be nothing under any circumstances;
nothing dearer than a friend. Why did such an idea occur
to her even enough to be reprobated and forbidden? It ought
not to have touched on the confines of her imagination.
She would endeavour to be rational, and to deserve
the right of judging of Miss Crawford's character,
and the privilege of true solicitude for him by a sound
intellect and an honest heart.

She had all the heroism of principle, and was determined
to do her duty; but having also many of the feelings of youth
and nature, let her not be much wondered at, if, after making
all these good resolutions on the side of self-government,
she seized the scrap of paper on which Edmund had begun
writing to her, as a treasure beyond all her hopes,
and reading with the tenderest emotion these words,
"My very dear Fanny, you must do me the favour to accept"
locked it up with the chain, as the dearest part of the gift.
It was the only thing approaching to a letter which she
had ever received from him; she might never receive another;
it was impossible that she ever should receive another
so perfectly gratifying in the occasion and the style.
Two lines more prized had never fallen from the pen
of the most distinguished author--never more completely
blessed the researches of the fondest biographer.
The enthusiasm of a woman's love is even beyond
the biographer's. To her, the handwriting itself,
independent of anything it may convey, is a blessedness.
Never were such characters cut by any other human being
as Edmund's commonest handwriting gave! This specimen,
written in haste as it was, had not a fault; and there
was a felicity in the flow of the first four words,
in the arrangement of "My very dear Fanny," which she
could have looked at for ever.

Having regulated her thoughts and comforted her feelings
by this happy mixture of reason and weakness, she was able
in due time to go down and resume her usual employments
near her aunt Bertram, and pay her the usual observances
without any apparent want of spirits.

Thursday, predestined to hope and enjoyment, came; and opened
with more kindness to Fanny than such self-willed,
unmanageable days often volunteer, for soon after breakfast
a very friendly note was brought from Mr. Crawford
to William, stating that as he found himself obliged
to go to London on the morrow for a few days, he could
not help trying to procure a companion; and therefore
hoped that if William could make up his mind to leave
Mansfield half a day earlier than had been proposed,
he would accept a place in his carriage. Mr. Crawford meant
to be in town by his uncle's accustomary late dinner-hour,
and William was invited to dine with him at the Admiral's.
The proposal was a very pleasant one to William himself,
who enjoyed the idea of travelling post with four horses,
and such a good-humoured, agreeable friend; and, in likening
it to going up with despatches, was saying at once everything
in favour of its happiness and dignity which his imagination
could suggest; and Fanny, from a different motive,
was exceedingly pleased; for the original plan was that
William should go up by the mail from Northampton the
following night, which would not have allowed him an hour's
rest before he must have got into a Portsmouth coach;
and though this offer of Mr. Crawford's would rob her
of many hours of his company, she was too happy in having
William spared from the fatigue of such a journey,
to think of anything else. Sir Thomas approved of it
for another reason. His nephew's introduction to Admiral
Crawford might be of service. The Admiral, he believed,
had interest. Upon the whole, it was a very joyous note.
Fanny's spirits lived on it half the morning, deriving
some accession of pleasure from its writer being himself to go
away.

As for the ball, so near at hand, she had too many
agitations and fears to have half the enjoyment in
anticipation which she ought to have had, or must have
been supposed to have by the many young ladies looking
forward to the same event in situations more at ease,
but under circumstances of less novelty, less interest,
less peculiar gratification, than would be attributed
to her. Miss Price, known only by name to half the
people invited, was now to make her first appearance,
and must be regarded as the queen of the evening.
Who could be happier than Miss Price? But Miss Price
had not been brought up to the trade of _coming_ _out_;
and had she known in what light this ball was, in general,
considered respecting her, it would very much have lessened
her comfort by increasing the fears she already had of doing
wrong and being looked at. To dance without much observation
or any extraordinary fatigue, to have strength and partners
for about half the evening, to dance a little with Edmund,
and not a great deal with Mr. Crawford, to see William
enjoy himself, and be able to keep away from her aunt Norris,
was the height of her ambition, and seemed to comprehend
her greatest possibility of happiness. As these were
the best of her hopes, they could not always prevail;
and in the course of a long morning, spent principally
with her two aunts, she was often under the influence
of much less sanguine views. William, determined to
make this last day a day of thorough enjoyment,
was out snipe-shooting; Edmund, she had too much reason
to suppose, was at the Parsonage; and left alone to bear
the worrying of Mrs. Norris, who was cross because the
housekeeper would have her own way with the supper,
and whom _she_ could not avoid though the housekeeper might,
Fanny was worn down at last to think everything an evil
belonging to the ball, and when sent off with a parting worry
to dress, moved as languidly towards her own room, and felt
as incapable of happiness as if she had been allowed no share in
it.

As she walked slowly upstairs she thought of yesterday;
it had been about the same hour that she had returned
from the Parsonage, and found Edmund in the East room.
"Suppose I were to find him there again to-day!" said she
to herself, in a fond indulgence of fancy.

"Fanny," said a voice at that moment near her.
Starting and looking up, she saw, across the lobby she
had just reached, Edmund himself, standing at the head
of a different staircase. He came towards her. "You look
tired and fagged, Fanny. You have been walking too far."

"No, I have not been out at all."

"Then you have had fatigues within doors, which are worse.
You had better have gone out."

Fanny, not liking to complain, found it easiest to make
no answer; and though he looked at her with his usual kindness,
she believed he had soon ceased to think of her countenance.
He did not appear in spirits: something unconnected with
her was probably amiss. They proceeded upstairs together,
their rooms being on the same floor above.

"I come from Dr. Grant's," said Edmund presently.
"You may guess my errand there, Fanny." And he looked
so conscious, that Fanny could think but of one errand,
which turned her too sick for speech. "I wished to
engage Miss Crawford for the two first dances," was the
explanation that followed, and brought Fanny to life again,
enabling her, as she found she was expected to speak,
to utter something like an inquiry as to the result.

"Yes," he answered, "she is engaged to me; but" (with a smile
that did not sit easy) "she says it is to be the last time
that she ever will dance with me. She is not serious.
I think, I hope, I am sure she is not serious; but I would
rather not hear it. She never has danced with a clergyman,
she says, and she never _will_. For my own sake, I could
wish there had been no ball just at--I mean not this
very week, this very day; to-morrow I leave home."

Fanny struggled for speech, and said, "I am very sorry
that anything has occurred to distress you. This ought
to be a day of pleasure. My uncle meant it so."

"Oh yes, yes! and it will be a day of pleasure.
It will all end right. I am only vexed for a moment.
In fact, it is not that I consider the ball as ill-timed;
what does it signify? But, Fanny," stopping her,
by taking her hand, and speaking low and seriously,
"you know what all this means. You see how it is;
and could tell me, perhaps better than I could tell you,
how and why I am vexed. Let me talk to you a little.
You are a kind, kind listener. I have been pained
by her manner this morning, and cannot get the better
of it. I know her disposition to be as sweet and
faultless as your own, but the influence of her former
companions makes her seem--gives to her conversation,
to her professed opinions, sometimes a tinge of wrong.
She does not _think_ evil, but she speaks it, speaks it
in playfulness; and though I know it to be playfulness,
it grieves me to the soul."

"The effect of education," said Fanny gently.

Edmund could not but agree to it. "Yes, that uncle and aunt!
They have injured the finest mind; for sometimes,
Fanny, I own to you, it does appear more than manner:
it appears as if the mind itself was tainted."

Fanny imagined this to be an appeal to her judgment,
and therefore, after a moment's consideration, said, "If you
only want me as a listener, cousin, I will be as useful
as I can; but I am not qualified for an adviser.
Do not ask advice of _me_. I am not competent."

"You are right, Fanny, to protest against such an office,
but you need not be afraid. It is a subject on which I
should never ask advice; it is the sort of subject on
which it had better never be asked; and few, I imagine,
do ask it, but when they want to be influenced against
their conscience. I only want to talk to you."

"One thing more. Excuse the liberty; but take care
_how_ you talk to me. Do not tell me anything now,
which hereafter you may be sorry for. The time may come--"

The colour rushed into her cheeks as she spoke.

"Dearest Fanny!" cried Edmund, pressing her hand to
his lips with almost as much warmth as if it had been
Miss Crawford's, "you are all considerate thought!
But it is unnecessary here. The time will never come.
No such time as you allude to will ever come. I begin to
think it most improbable: the chances grow less and less;
and even if it should, there will be nothing to be
remembered by either you or me that we need be afraid of,
for I can never be ashamed of my own scruples; and if they
are removed, it must be by changes that will only raise
her character the more by the recollection of the faults
she once had. You are the only being upon earth to whom
I should say what I have said; but you have always known
my opinion of her; you can bear me witness, Fanny, that I
have never been blinded. How many a time have we
talked over her little errors! You need not fear me;
I have almost given up every serious idea of her;
but I must be a blockhead indeed, if, whatever befell me,
I could think of your kindness and sympathy without the
sincerest gratitude."

He had said enough to shake the experience of eighteen.
He had said enough to give Fanny some happier feelings
than she had lately known, and with a brighter look,
she answered, "Yes, cousin, I am convinced that _you_
would be incapable of anything else, though perhaps some
might not. I cannot be afraid of hearing anything you
wish to say. Do not check yourself. Tell me whatever
you like."

They were now on the second floor, and the appearance
of a housemaid prevented any farther conversation.
For Fanny's present comfort it was concluded, perhaps,
at the happiest moment: had he been able to talk another
five minutes, there is no saying that he might not have talked
away all Miss Crawford's faults and his own despondence.
But as it was, they parted with looks on his side of
grateful affection, and with some very precious sensations
on hers. She had felt nothing like it for hours.
Since the first joy from Mr. Crawford's note to William had
worn away, she had been in a state absolutely the reverse;
there had been no comfort around, no hope within her.
Now everything was smiling. William's good fortune
returned again upon her mind, and seemed of greater
value than at first. The ball, too--such an evening
of pleasure before her! It was now a real animation;
and she began to dress for it with much of the happy
flutter which belongs to a ball. All went well:
she did not dislike her own looks; and when she came
to the necklaces again, her good fortune seemed complete,
for upon trial the one given her by Miss Crawford would
by no means go through the ring of the cross. She had,
to oblige Edmund, resolved to wear it; but it was too
large for the purpose. His, therefore, must be worn;
and having, with delightful feelings, joined the chain
and the cross--those memorials of the two most beloved
of her heart, those dearest tokens so formed for each
other by everything real and imaginary--and put them
round her neck, and seen and felt how full of William
and Edmund they were, she was able, without an effort,
to resolve on wearing Miss Crawford's necklace too.
She acknowledged it to be right. Miss Crawford had a claim;
and when it was no longer to encroach on, to interfere
with the stronger claims, the truer kindness of another,
she could do her justice even with pleasure to herself.
The necklace really looked very well; and Fanny left her
room at last, comfortably satisfied with herself and all
about her.

Her aunt Bertram had recollected her on this occasion with
an unusual degree of wakefulness. It had really occurred
to her, unprompted, that Fanny, preparing for a ball,
might be glad of better help than the upper housemaid's,
and when dressed herself, she actually sent her own maid
to assist her; too late, of course, to be of any use.
Mrs. Chapman had just reached the attic floor, when Miss
Price came out of her room completely dressed, and only
civilities were necessary; but Fanny felt her aunt's
attention almost as much as Lady Bertram or Mrs. Chapman
could do themselves.




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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