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CHAPTER XXXI

Henry Crawford was at Mansfield Park again the next morning,
and at an earlier hour than common visiting warrants.
The two ladies were together in the breakfast-room, and,
fortunately for him, Lady Bertram was on the very point
of quitting it as he entered. She was almost at the door,
and not chusing by any means to take so much trouble in vain,
she still went on, after a civil reception, a short sentence
about being waited for, and a "Let Sir Thomas know"
to the servant.

Henry, overjoyed to have her go, bowed and watched her off,
and without losing another moment, turned instantly to Fanny,
and, taking out some letters, said, with a most animated look,
"I must acknowledge myself infinitely obliged to any creature
who gives me such an opportunity of seeing you alone:
I have been wishing it more than you can have any idea.
Knowing as I do what your feelings as a sister are, I could
hardly have borne that any one in the house should share
with you in the first knowledge of the news I now bring.
He is made. Your brother is a lieutenant. I have
the infinite satisfaction of congratulating you on your
brother's promotion. Here are the letters which announce it,
this moment come to hand. You will, perhaps, like to see them."

Fanny could not speak, but he did not want her to speak.
To see the expression of her eyes, the change
of her complexion, the progress of her feelings,
their doubt, confusion, and felicity, was enough.
She took the letters as he gave them. The first was
from the Admiral to inform his nephew, in a few words,
of his having succeeded in the object he had undertaken,
the promotion of young Price, and enclosing two more,
one from the Secretary of the First Lord to a friend,
whom the Admiral had set to work in the business,
the other from that friend to himself, by which it
appeared that his lordship had the very great happiness
of attending to the recommendation of Sir Charles;
that Sir Charles was much delighted in having such an
opportunity of proving his regard for Admiral Crawford,
and that the circumstance of Mr. William Price's commission
as Second Lieutenant of H.M. Sloop Thrush being made
out was spreading general joy through a wide circle
of great people.

While her hand was trembling under these letters,
her eye running from one to the other, and her heart
swelling with emotion, Crawford thus continued,
with unfeigned eagerness, to express his interest in the event--

"I will not talk of my own happiness," said he, "great as
it is, for I think only of yours. Compared with you,
who has a right to be happy? I have almost grudged myself
my own prior knowledge of what you ought to have known
before all the world. I have not lost a moment, however.
The post was late this morning, but there has not been
since a moment's delay. How impatient, how anxious,
how wild I have been on the subject, I will not attempt
to describe; how severely mortified, how cruelly disappointed,
in not having it finished while I was in London!
I was kept there from day to day in the hope of it,
for nothing less dear to me than such an object would
have detained me half the time from Mansfield.
But though my uncle entered into my wishes with all the
warmth I could desire, and exerted himself immediately,
there were difficulties from the absence of one friend,
and the engagements of another, which at last I could no longer
bear to stay the end of, and knowing in what good hands I
left the cause, I came away on Monday, trusting that many
posts would not pass before I should be followed by such
very letters as these. My uncle, who is the very best man
in the world, has exerted himself, as I knew he would,
after seeing your brother. He was delighted with him.
I would not allow myself yesterday to say how delighted,
or to repeat half that the Admiral said in his praise.
I deferred it all till his praise should be proved
the praise of a friend, as this day _does_ prove it.
_Now_ I may say that even I could not require William
Price to excite a greater interest, or be followed
by warmer wishes and higher commendation, than were most
voluntarily bestowed by my uncle after the evening they had
passed together."

"Has this been all _your_ doing, then?" cried Fanny.
"Good heaven! how very, very kind! Have you really--
was it by _your_ desire? I beg your pardon, but I
am bewildered. Did Admiral Crawford apply? How was it?
I am stupefied."

Henry was most happy to make it more intelligible,
by beginning at an earlier stage, and explaining very
particularly what he had done. His last journey to London
had been undertaken with no other view than that of
introducing her brother in Hill Street, and prevailing
on the Admiral to exert whatever interest he might
have for getting him on. This had been his business.
He had communicated it to no creature: he had not
breathed a syllable of it even to Mary; while uncertain
of the issue, he could not have borne any participation
of his feelings, but this had been his business; and he
spoke with such a glow of what his solicitude had been,
and used such strong expressions, was so abounding
in the _deepest_ _interest_, in _twofold_ _motives_,
in _views_ _and_ _wishes_ _more_ _than_ _could_ _be_ _told_,
that Fanny could not have remained insensible of his drift,
had she been able to attend; but her heart was so full
and her senses still so astonished, that she could listen
but imperfectly even to what he told her of William,
and saying only when he paused, "How kind! how very kind!
Oh, Mr. Crawford, we are infinitely obliged to you!
Dearest, dearest William!" She jumped up and moved in haste
towards the door, crying out, "I will go to my uncle.
My uncle ought to know it as soon as possible." But this
could not be suffered. The opportunity was too fair,
and his feelings too impatient. He was after her immediately.
"She must not go, she must allow him five minutes longer,"
and he took her hand and led her back to her seat,
and was in the middle of his farther explanation,
before she had suspected for what she was detained.
When she did understand it, however, and found herself
expected to believe that she had created sensations which
his heart had never known before, and that everything
he had done for William was to be placed to the account
of his excessive and unequalled attachment to her,
she was exceedingly distressed, and for some moments
unable to speak. She considered it all as nonsense,
as mere trifling and gallantry, which meant only to deceive
for the hour; she could not but feel that it was treating
her improperly and unworthily, and in such a way as she
had not deserved; but it was like himself, and entirely
of a piece with what she had seen before; and she would
not allow herself to shew half the displeasure she felt,
because he had been conferring an obligation, which no
want of delicacy on his part could make a trifle to her.
While her heart was still bounding with joy and gratitude
on William's behalf, she could not be severely resentful
of anything that injured only herself; and after having
twice drawn back her hand, and twice attempted in vain
to turn away from him, she got up, and said only,
with much agitation, "Don't, Mr. Crawford, pray don't! I
beg you would not. This is a sort of talking which is very
unpleasant to me. I must go away. I cannot bear it."
But he was still talking on, describing his affection,
soliciting a return, and, finally, in words so plain
as to bear but one meaning even to her, offering himself,
hand, fortune, everything, to her acceptance. It was so;
he had said it. Her astonishment and confusion increased;
and though still not knowing how to suppose him serious,
she could hardly stand. He pressed for an answer.

"No, no, no!" she cried, hiding her face. "This is all nonsense.
Do not distress me. I can hear no more of this.
Your kindness to William makes me more obliged to you
than words can express; but I do not want, I cannot bear,
I must not listen to such--No, no, don't think of me.
But you are _not_ thinking of me. I know it is all nothing."

She had burst away from him, and at that moment Sir Thomas
was heard speaking to a servant in his way towards the room
they were in. It was no time for farther assurances
or entreaty, though to part with her at a moment when her
modesty alone seemed, to his sanguine and preassured mind,
to stand in the way of the happiness he sought, was a
cruel necessity. She rushed out at an opposite door
from the one her uncle was approaching, and was walking
up and down the East room ill the utmost confusion
of contrary feeling, before Sir Thomas's politeness
or apologies were over, or he had reached the beginning
of the joyful intelligence which his visitor came to communicate.

She was feeling, thinking, trembling about everything;
agitated, happy, miserable, infinitely obliged,
absolutely angry. It was all beyond belief!
He was inexcusable, incomprehensible! But such were
his habits that he could do nothing without a mixture
of evil. He had previously made her the happiest
of human beings, and now he had insulted--she knew
not what to say, how to class, or how to regard it.
She would not have him be serious, and yet what could
excuse the use of such words and offers, if they meant but to
trifle?

But William was a lieutenant. _That_ was a fact beyond
a doubt, and without an alloy. She would think of it
for ever and forget all the rest. Mr. Crawford would
certainly never address her so again: he must have
seen how unwelcome it was to her; and in that case,
how gratefully she could esteem him for his friendship
to William!

She would not stir farther from the East room than
the head of the great staircase, till she had satisfied
herself of Mr. Crawford's having left the house;
but when convinced of his being gone, she was eager to go
down and be with her uncle, and have all the happiness
of his joy as well as her own, and all the benefit
of his information or his conjectures as to what would
now be William's destination. Sir Thomas was as joyful
as she could desire, and very kind and communicative;
and she had so comfortable a talk with him about William
as to make her feel as if nothing had occurred to vex her,
till she found, towards the close, that Mr. Crawford
was engaged to return and dine there that very day.
This was a most unwelcome hearing, for though he might
think nothing of what had passed, it would be quite
distressing to her to see him again so soon.

She tried to get the better of it; tried very hard,
as the dinner hour approached, to feel and appear as usual;
but it was quite impossible for her not to look most shy
and uncomfortable when their visitor entered the room.
She could not have supposed it in the power of any concurrence
of circumstances to give her so many painful sensations on
the first day of hearing of William's promotion.

Mr. Crawford was not only in the room--he was soon close
to her. He had a note to deliver from his sister.
Fanny could not look at him, but there was no consciousness
of past folly in his voice. She opened her note immediately,
glad to have anything to do, and happy, as she read it,
to feel that the fidgetings of her aunt Norris, who was
also to dine there, screened her a little from view.

"My dear Fanny,--for so I may now always call you,
to the infinite relief of a tongue that has been stumbling
at _Miss_ _Price_ for at least the last six weeks--
I cannot let my brother go without sending you a few lines
of general congratulation, and giving my most joyful consent
and approval. Go on, my dear Fanny, and without fear;
there can be no difficulties worth naming. I chuse to
suppose that the assurance of my consent will be something;
so you may smile upon him with your sweetest smiles
this afternoon, and send him back to me even happier
than he goes.--Yours affectionately, M. C."

These were not expressions to do Fanny any good;
for though she read in too much haste and confusion
to form the clearest judgment of Miss Crawford's meaning,
it was evident that she meant to compliment her on her
brother's attachment, and even to _appear_ to believe
it serious. She did not know what to do, or what to think.
There was wretchedness in the idea of its being serious;
there was perplexity and agitation every way.
She was distressed whenever Mr. Crawford spoke to her,
and he spoke to her much too often; and she was afraid
there was a something in his voice and manner in addressing
her very different from what they were when he talked
to the others. Her comfort in that day's dinner
was quite destroyed: she could hardly eat anything;
and when Sir Thomas good-humouredly observed that joy had
taken away her appetite, she was ready to sink with shame,
from the dread of Mr. Crawford's interpretation;
for though nothing could have tempted her to turn her eyes
to the right hand, where he sat, she felt that _his_
were immediately directed towards her.

She was more silent than ever. She would hardly join
even when William was the subject, for his commission
came all from the right hand too, and there was pain
in the connexion.

She thought Lady Bertram sat longer than ever, and began
to be in despair of ever getting away; but at last they
were in the drawing-room, and she was able to think
as she would, while her aunts finished the subject
of William's appointment in their own style.

Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving
it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it.
"_Now_ William would be able to keep himself, which would
make a vast difference to his uncle, for it was unknown
how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make
some difference in _her_ presents too. She was very glad
that she had given William what she did at parting,
very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power,
without material inconvenience, just at that time to give
him something rather considerable; that is, for_her_,
with _her_ limited means, for now it would all be useful
in helping to fit up his cabin. She knew he must be at
some expense, that he would have many things to buy,
though to be sure his father and mother would be able
to put him in the way of getting everything very cheap;
but she was very glad she had contributed her mite
towards it."

"I am glad you gave him something considerable,"
said Lady Bertram, with most unsuspicious calmness,
"for _I_ gave him only 10."

"Indeed!" cried Mrs. Norris, reddening. "Upon my word,
he must have gone off with his pockets 1 well lined,
and at no expense for his journey to London either!"

"Sir Thomas told me 10 would be enough."

Mrs. Norris, being not at all inclined to question
its sufficiency, began to take the matter in another point.

"It is amazing," said she, "how much young people cost
their friends, what with bringing them up and putting them
out in the world! They little think how much it comes to,
or what their parents, or their uncles and aunts, pay for
them in the course of the year. Now, here are my sister
Price's children; take them all together, I dare say nobody
would believe what a sum they cost Sir Thomas every year,
to say nothing of what _I_ do for them."

"Very true, sister, as you say. But, poor things!
they cannot help it; and you know it makes very little
difference to Sir Thomas. Fanny, William must not forget
my shawl if he goes to the East Indies; and I shall give
him a commission for anything else that is worth having.
I wish he may go to the East Indies, that I may have my shawl.
I think I will have two shawls, Fanny."

Fanny, meanwhile, speaking only when she could not help it,
was very earnestly trying to understand what Mr. and Miss
Crawford were at. There was everything in the world
_against_ their being serious but his words and manner.
Everything natural, probable, reasonable, was against it;
all their habits and ways of thinking, and all
her own demerits. How could _she_ have excited
serious attachment in a man who had seen so many,
and been admired by so many, and flirted with so many,
infinitely her superiors; who seemed so little open
to serious impressions, even where pains had been taken
to please him; who thought so slightly, so carelessly,
so unfeelingly on all such points; who was everything
to everybody, and seemed to find no one essential to him?
And farther, how could it be supposed that his sister,
with all her high and worldly notions of matrimony,
would be forwarding anything of a serious nature in such
a quarter? Nothing could be more unnatural in either.
Fanny was ashamed of her own doubts. Everything might
be possible rather than serious attachment, or serious
approbation of it toward her. She had quite convinced herself
of this before Sir Thomas and Mr. Crawford joined them.
The difficulty was in maintaining the conviction quite
so absolutely after Mr. Crawford was in the room;
for once or twice a look seemed forced on her which she
did not know how to class among the common meaning;
in any other man, at least, she would have said
that it meant something very earnest, very pointed.
But she still tried to believe it no more than what he
might often have expressed towards her cousins and fifty
other women.

She thought he was wishing to speak to her unheard
by the rest. She fancied he was trying for it the
whole evening at intervals, whenever Sir Thomas was
out of the room, or at all engaged with Mrs. Norris,
and she carefully refused him every opportunity.

At last--it seemed an at last to Fanny's nervousness,
though not remarkably late--he began to talk of going away;
but the comfort of the sound was impaired by his turning
to her the next moment, and saying, "Have you nothing to send
to Mary? No answer to her note? She will be disappointed
if she receives nothing from you. Pray write to her,
if it be only a line."

"Oh yes! certainly," cried Fanny, rising in haste,
the haste of embarrassment and of wanting to get away--
"I will write directly."

She went accordingly to the table, where she was in the
habit of writing for her aunt, and prepared her materials
without knowing what in the world to say. She had read
Miss Crawford's note only once, and how to reply to
anything so imperfectly understood was most distressing.
Quite unpractised in such sort of note-writing, had
there been time for scruples and fears as to style she
would have felt them in abundance: but something must
be instantly written; and with only one decided feeling,
that of wishing not to appear to think anything really intended,
she wrote thus, in great trembling both of spirits and hand--

"I am very much obliged to you, my dear Miss Crawford,
for your kind congratulations, as far as they relate to my
dearest William. The rest of your note I know means nothing;
but I am so unequal to anything of the sort, that I hope
you will excuse my begging you to take no farther notice.
I have seen too much of Mr. Crawford not to understand
his manners; if he understood me as well, he would,
I dare say, behave differently. I do not know what I write,
but it would be a great favour of you never to mention
the subject again. With thanks for the honour of your note,
I remain, dear Miss Crawford, etc., etc."

The conclusion was scarcely intelligible from increasing
fright, for she found that Mr. Crawford, under pretence
of receiving the note, was coming towards her.

"You cannot think I mean to hurry you," said he,
in an undervoice, perceiving the amazing trepidation
with which she made up the note, "you cannot think
I have any such object. Do not hurry yourself, I entreat."

"Oh! I thank you; I have quite done, just done; it will
be ready in a moment; I am very much obliged to you;
if you will be so good as to give _that_ to Miss Crawford."

The note was held out, and must be taken; and as she
instantly and with averted eyes walked towards the fireplace,
where sat the others, he had nothing to do but to go
in good earnest.

Fanny thought she had never known a day of greater agitation,
both of pain and pleasure; but happily the pleasure
was not of a sort to die with the day; for every day
would restore the knowledge of William's advancement,
whereas the pain, she hoped, would return no more.
She had no doubt that her note must appear excessively
ill-written, that the language would disgrace a child,
for her distress had allowed no arrangement; but at least
it would assure them both of her being neither imposed
on nor gratified by Mr. Crawford's attentions.




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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