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CHAPTER XXVIII

Her uncle and both her aunts were in the drawing-room
when Fanny went down. To the former she was an interesting
object, and he saw with pleasure the general elegance
of her appearance, and her being in remarkably good looks.
The neatness and propriety of her dress was all that
he would allow himself to commend in her presence,
but upon her leaving the room again soon afterwards,
he spoke of her beauty with very decided praise.

"Yes," said Lady Bertram, "she looks very well.
I sent Chapman to her."

"Look well! Oh, yes!" cried Mrs. Norris, "she has
good reason to look well with all her advantages:
brought up in this family as she has been, with all
the benefit of her cousins' manners before her.
Only think, my dear Sir Thomas, what extraordinary
advantages you and I have been the means of giving her.
The very gown you have been taking notice of is your own
generous present to her when dear Mrs. Rushworth married.
What would she have been if we had not taken her by
the hand?"

Sir Thomas said no more; but when they sat down to table
the eyes of the two young men assured him that the subject
might be gently touched again, when the ladies withdrew,
with more success. Fanny saw that she was approved;
and the consciousness of looking well made her look
still better. From a variety of causes she was happy,
and she was soon made still happier; for in following her
aunts out of the room, Edmund, who was holding open the door,
said, as she passed him, "You must dance with me, Fanny;
you must keep two dances for me; any two that you like,
except the first." She had nothing more to wish for.
She had hardly ever been in a state so nearly approaching
high spirits in her life. Her cousins' former gaiety
on the day of a ball was no longer surprising to her;
she felt it to be indeed very charming, and was actually
practising her steps about the drawing-room as long as she
could be safe from the notice of her aunt Norris, who was
entirely taken up at first in fresh arranging and injuring
the noble fire which the butler had prepared.

Half an hour followed that would have been at least languid
under any other circumstances, but Fanny's happiness
still prevailed. It was but to think of her conversation
with Edmund, and what was the restlessness of Mrs. Norris?
What were the yawns of Lady Bertram?

The gentlemen joined them; and soon after began the sweet
expectation of a carriage, when a general spirit of ease
and enjoyment seemed diffused, and they all stood about
and talked and laughed, and every moment had its pleasure
and its hope. Fanny felt that there must be a struggle
in Edmund's cheerfulness, but it was delightful to see
the effort so successfully made.

When the carriages were really heard, when the guests began
really to assemble, her own gaiety of heart was much subdued:
the sight of so many strangers threw her back into herself;
and besides the gravity and formality of the first great circle,
which the manners of neither Sir Thomas nor Lady Bertram
were of a kind to do away, she found herself occasionally
called on to endure something worse. She was introduced
here and there by her uncle, and forced to be spoken to,
and to curtsey, and speak again. This was a hard duty,
and she was never summoned to it without looking at William,
as he walked about at his ease in the background of the scene,
and longing to be with him.

The entrance of the Grants and Crawfords was a favourable epoch.
The stiffness of the meeting soon gave way before their
popular manners and more diffused intimacies: little groups
were formed, and everybody grew comfortable. Fanny felt
the advantage; and, drawing back from the toils of civility,
would have been again most happy, could she have kept
her eyes from wandering between Edmund and Mary Crawford.
_She_ looked all loveliness--and what might not be
the end of it? Her own musings were brought to an end
on perceiving Mr. Crawford before her, and her thoughts
were put into another channel by his engaging her almost
instantly for the first two dances. Her happiness on this
occasion was very much _a_ _la_ _mortal_, finely chequered.
To be secure of a partner at first was a most essential good--
for the moment of beginning was now growing seriously near;
and she so little understood her own claims as to think
that if Mr. Crawford had not asked her, she must have been
the last to be sought after, and should have received
a partner only through a series of inquiry, and bustle,
and interference, which would have been terrible; but at
the same time there was a pointedness in his manner of asking
her which she did not like, and she saw his eye glancing
for a moment at her necklace, with a smile--she thought
there was a smile--which made her blush and feel wretched.
And though there was no second glance to disturb her,
though his object seemed then to be only quietly agreeable,
she could not get the better of her embarrassment,
heightened as it was by the idea of his perceiving it,
and had no composure till he turned away to some one else.
Then she could gradually rise up to the genuine satisfaction
of having a partner, a voluntary partner, secured against
the dancing began.

When the company were moving into the ballroom, she found
herself for the first time near Miss Crawford, whose eyes
and smiles were immediately and more unequivocally directed
as her brother's had been, and who was beginning to speak
on the subject, when Fanny, anxious to get the story over,
hastened to give the explanation of the second necklace:
the real chain. Miss Crawford listened; and all her intended
compliments and insinuations to Fanny were forgotten:
she felt only one thing; and her eyes, bright as they
had been before, shewing they could yet be brighter,
she exclaimed with eager pleasure, "Did he? Did Edmund?
That was like himself. No other man would have thought of it.
I honour him beyond expression." And she looked around
as if longing to tell him so. He was not near, he was
attending a party of ladies out of the room; and Mrs. Grant
coming up to the two girls, and taking an arm of each,
they followed with the rest.

Fanny's heart sunk, but there was no leisure for
thinking long even of Miss Crawford's feelings.
They were in the ballroom, the violins were playing,
and her mind was in a flutter that forbade its fixing on
anything serious. She must watch the general arrangements,
and see how everything was done.

In a few minutes Sir Thomas came to her, and asked if
she were engaged; and the "Yes, sir; to Mr. Crawford,"
was exactly what he had intended to hear. Mr. Crawford
was not far off; Sir Thomas brought him to her,
saying something which discovered to Fanny, that _she_
was to lead the way and open the ball; an idea that had
never occurred to her before. Whenever she had thought
of the minutiae of the evening, it had been as a matter
of course that Edmund would begin with Miss Crawford;
and the impression was so strong, that though _her_ _uncle_
spoke the contrary, she could not help an exclamation
of surprise, a hint of her unfitness, an entreaty even to
be excused. To be urging her opinion against Sir Thomas's
was a proof of the extremity of the case; but such was her
horror at the first suggestion, that she could actually
look him in the face and say that she hoped it might be
settled otherwise; in vain, however: Sir Thomas smiled,
tried to encourage her, and then looked too serious,
and said too decidedly, "It must be so, my dear," for her
to hazard another word; and she found herself the next
moment conducted by Mr. Crawford to the top of the room,
and standing there to be joined by the rest of the dancers,
couple after couple, as they were formed.

She could hardly believe it. To be placed above so many
elegant young women! The distinction was too great.
It was treating her like her cousins! And her thoughts
flew to those absent cousins with most unfeigned and truly
tender regret, that they were not at home to take their
own place in the room, and have their share of a pleasure
which would have been so very delightful to them.
So often as she had heard them wish for a ball at home
as the greatest of all felicities! And to have them away
when it was given--and for _her_ to be opening the ball--
and with Mr. Crawford too! She hoped they would not envy
her that distinction _now_; but when she looked back
to the state of things in the autumn, to what they had all
been to each other when once dancing in that house before,
the present arrangement was almost more than she could
understand herself.

The ball began. It was rather honour than happiness
to Fanny, for the first dance at least: her partner was
in excellent spirits, and tried to impart them to her;
but she was a great deal too much frightened to have
any enjoyment till she could suppose herself no longer
looked at. Young, pretty, and gentle, however, she had
no awkwardnesses that were not as good as graces,
and there were few persons present that were not disposed
to praise her. She was attractive, she was modest,
she was Sir Thomas's niece, and she was soon said
to be admired by Mr. Crawford. It was enough to give
her general favour. Sir Thomas himself was watching
her progress down the dance with much complacency;
he was proud of his niece; and without attributing
all her personal beauty, as Mrs. Norris seemed to do,
to her transplantation to Mansfield, he was pleased
with himself for having supplied everything else:
education and manners she owed to him.

Miss Crawford saw much of Sir Thomas's thoughts as he stood,
and having, in spite of all his wrongs towards her,
a general prevailing desire of recommending herself to him,
took an opportunity of stepping aside to say something
agreeable of Fanny. Her praise was warm, and he received
it as she could wish, joining in it as far as discretion,
and politeness, and slowness of speech would allow,
and certainly appearing to greater advantage on the subject
than his lady did soon afterwards, when Mary, perceiving her
on a sofa very near, turned round before she began to dance,
to compliment her on Miss Price's looks.

"Yes, she does look very well," was Lady Bertram's placid reply.
"Chapman helped her to dress. I sent Chapman to her."
Not but that she was really pleased to have Fanny admired;
but she was so much more struck with her own kindness
in sending Chapman to her, that she could not get it out
of her head.

Miss Crawford knew Mrs. Norris too well to think of
gratifying _her_ by commendation of Fanny; to her, it was
as the occasion offered--"Ah! ma'am, how much we want dear
Mrs. Rushworth and Julia to-night!" and Mrs. Norris paid
her with as many smiles and courteous words as she had
time for, amid so much occupation as she found for herself
in making up card-tables, giving hints to Sir Thomas,
and trying to move all the chaperons to a better part of the room.

Miss Crawford blundered most towards Fanny herself in her
intentions to please. She meant to be giving her little
heart a happy flutter, and filling her with sensations
of delightful self-consequence; and, misinterpreting Fanny's
blushes, still thought she must be doing so when she
went to her after the two first dances, and said, with a
significant look, "Perhaps _you_ can tell me why my brother
goes to town to-morrow? He says he has business there,
but will not tell me what. The first time he ever denied
me his confidence! But this is what we all come to.
All are supplanted sooner or later. Now, I must apply
to you for information. Pray, what is Henry going for?"

Fanny protested her ignorance as steadily as her
embarrassment allowed.

"Well, then," replied Miss Crawford, laughing, "I must
suppose it to be purely for the pleasure of conveying
your brother, and of talking of you by the way."

Fanny was confused, but it was the confusion of discontent;
while Miss Crawford wondered she did not smile, and thought
her over-anxious, or thought her odd, or thought her anything
rather than insensible of pleasure in Henry's attentions.
Fanny had a good deal of enjoyment in the course of the evening;
but Henry's attentions had very little to do with it.
She would much rather _not_ have been asked by him again
so very soon, and she wished she had not been obliged
to suspect that his previous inquiries of Mrs. Norris,
about the supper hour, were all for the sake of securing her
at that part of the evening. But it was not to be avoided:
he made her feel that she was the object of all; though she
could not say that it was unpleasantly done, that there
was indelicacy or ostentation in his manner; and sometimes,
when he talked of William, he was really not unagreeable,
and shewed even a warmth of heart which did him credit.
But still his attentions made no part of her satisfaction.
She was happy whenever she looked at William, and saw how
perfectly he was enjoying himself, in every five minutes
that she could walk about with him and hear his account
of his partners; she was happy in knowing herself admired;
and she was happy in having the two dances with Edmund still
to look forward to, during the greatest part of the evening,
her hand being so eagerly sought after that her indefinite
engagement with _him_ was in continual perspective.
She was happy even when they did take place; but not from
any flow of spirits on his side, or any such expressions
of tender gallantry as had blessed the morning.
His mind was fagged, and her happiness sprung from
being the friend with whom it could find repose.
"I am worn out with civility," said he. "I have been
talking incessantly all night, and with nothing to say.
But with _you_, Fanny, there may be peace. You will not
want to be talked to. Let us have the luxury of silence."
Fanny would hardly even speak her agreement. A weariness,
arising probably, in great measure, from the same feelings
which he had acknowledged in the morning, was peculiarly
to be respected, and they went down their two dances together
with such sober tranquillity as might satisfy any looker-on
that Sir Thomas had been bringing up no wife for his
younger son.

The evening had afforded Edmund little pleasure. Miss Crawford
had been in gay spirits when they first danced together,
but it was not her gaiety that could do him good:
it rather sank than raised his comfort; and afterwards,
for he found himself still impelled to seek her again,
she had absolutely pained him by her manner of speaking of the
profession to which he was now on the point of belonging.
They had talked, and they had been silent; he had reasoned,
she had ridiculed; and they had parted at last with
mutual vexation. Fanny, not able to refrain entirely from
observing them, had seen enough to be tolerably satisfied.
It was barbarous to be happy when Edmund was suffering.
Yet some happiness must and would arise from the very
conviction that he did suffer.

When her two dances with him were over, her inclination
and strength for more were pretty well at an end;
and Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance
down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at
her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely.
From that time Mr. Crawford sat down likewise.

"Poor Fanny!" cried William, coming for a moment to visit her,
and working away his partner's fan as if for life, "how soon
she is knocked up! Why, the sport is but just begun.
I hope we shall keep it up these two hours. How can you
be tired so soon?"

"So soon! my good friend," said Sir Thomas, producing his
watch with all necessary caution; "it is three o'clock,
and your sister is not used to these sort of hours."

"Well, then, Fanny, you shall not get up to-morrow before
I go. Sleep as long as you can, and never mind me."

"Oh! William."

"What! Did she think of being up before you set off?"

"Oh! yes, sir," cried Fanny, rising eagerly from her seat
to be nearer her uncle; "I must get up and breakfast with him.
It will be the last time, you know; the last morning."

"You had better not. He is to have breakfasted and be
gone by half-past nine. Mr. Crawford, I think you call
for him at half-past nine?"

Fanny was too urgent, however, and had too many tears in her
eyes for denial; and it ended in a gracious "Well, well!"
which was permission.

"Yes, half-past nine," said Crawford to William as the
latter was leaving them, "and I shall be punctual,
for there will be no kind sister to get up for _me_."
And in a lower tone to Fanny, "I shall have only a desolate
house to hurry from. Your brother will find my ideas
of time and his own very different to-morrow."

After a short consideration, Sir Thomas asked Crawford
to join the early breakfast party in that house
instead of eating alone: he should himself be of it;
and the readiness with which his invitation was accepted
convinced him that the suspicions whence, he must confess
to himself, this very ball had in great measure sprung,
were well founded. Mr. Crawford was in love with Fanny.
He had a pleasing anticipation of what would be. His niece,
meanwhile, did not thank him for what he had just done.
She had hoped to have William all to herself the last morning.
It would have been an unspeakable indulgence. But though
her wishes were overthrown, there was no spirit of murmuring
within her. On the contrary, she was so totally unused
to have her pleasure consulted, or to have anything take
place at all in the way she could desire, that she was more
disposed to wonder and rejoice in having carried her point
so far, than to repine at the counteraction which followed.

Shortly afterward, Sir Thomas was again interfering
a little with her inclination, by advising her to go
immediately to bed. "Advise" was his word, but it
was the advice of absolute power, and she had only
to rise, and, with Mr. Crawford's very cordial adieus,
pass quietly away; stopping at the entrance-door, like
the Lady of Branxholm Hall, "one moment and no more,"
to view the happy scene, and take a last look at the five
or six determined couple who were still hard at work;
and then, creeping slowly up the principal staircase,
pursued by the ceaseless country-dance, feverish with hopes
and fears, soup and negus, sore-footed and fatigued,
restless and agitated, yet feeling, in spite of everything,
that a ball was indeed delightful.

In thus sending her away, Sir Thomas perhaps might not
be thinking merely of her health. It might occur to him
that Mr. Crawford had been sitting by her long enough,
or he might mean to recommend her as a wife by shewing
her persuadableness.




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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