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CHAPTER XXXIV

Edmund had great things to hear on his return. Many surprises
were awaiting him. The first that occurred was not least
in interest: the appearance of Henry Crawford and his sister
walking together through the village as he rode into it.
He had concluded--he had meant them to be far distant.
His absence had been extended beyond a fortnight purposely
to avoid Miss Crawford. He was returning to Mansfield
with spirits ready to feed on melancholy remembrances,
and tender associations, when her own fair self was
before him, leaning on her brother's arm, and he found
himself receiving a welcome, unquestionably friendly,
from the woman whom, two moments before, he had been
thinking of as seventy miles off, and as farther,
much farther, from him in inclination than any distance
could express.

Her reception of him was of a sort which he could not
have hoped for, had he expected to see her. Coming as he
did from such a purport fulfilled as had taken him away,
he would have expected anything rather than a look
of satisfaction, and words of simple, pleasant meaning.
It was enough to set his heart in a glow, and to bring him
home in the properest state for feeling the full value
of the other joyful surprises at hand.

William's promotion, with all its particulars, he was soon
master of; and with such a secret provision of comfort
within his own breast to help the joy, he found in it
a source of most gratifying sensation and unvarying
cheerfulness all dinner-time.

After dinner, when he and his father were alone,
he had Fanny's history; and then all the great events
of the last fortnight, and the present situation
of matters at Mansfield were known to him.

Fanny suspected what was going on. They sat so much
longer than usual in the dining-parlour, that she was sure
they must be talking of her; and when tea at last brought
them away, and she was to be seen by Edmund again, she felt
dreadfully guilty. He came to her, sat down by her,
took her hand, and pressed it kindly; and at that moment
she thought that, but for the occupation and the scene
which the tea-things afforded, she must have betrayed
her emotion in some unpardonable excess.

He was not intending, however, by such action,
to be conveying to her that unqualified approbation
and encouragement which her hopes drew from it.
It was designed only to express his participation in all
that interested her, and to tell her that he had been
hearing what quickened every feeling of affection. He was,
in fact, entirely on his father's side of the question.
His surprise was not so great as his father's at her
refusing Crawford, because, so far from supposing
her to consider him with anything like a preference,
he had always believed it to be rather the reverse,
and could imagine her to be taken perfectly unprepared,
but Sir Thomas could not regard the connexion as more
desirable than he did. It had every recommendation to him;
and while honouring her for what she had done under the
influence of her present indifference, honouring her in
rather stronger terms than Sir Thomas could quite echo,
he was most earnest in hoping, and sanguine in believing,
that it would be a match at last, and that, united by
mutual affection, it would appear that their dispositions
were as exactly fitted to make them blessed in each other,
as he was now beginning seriously to consider them.
Crawford had been too precipitate. He had not given her
time to attach herself. He had begun at the wrong end.
With such powers as his, however, and such a disposition
as hers, Edmund trusted that everything would work
out a happy conclusion. Meanwhile, he saw enough
of Fanny's embarrassment to make him scrupulously guard
against exciting it a second time, by any word, or look,
or movement.

Crawford called the next day, and on the score of Edmund's
return, Sir Thomas felt himself more than licensed to ask
him to stay dinner; it was really a necessary compliment.
He staid of course, and Edmund had then ample opportunity
for observing how he sped with Fanny, and what degree
of immediate encouragement for him might be extracted from
her manners; and it was so little, so very, very little--
every chance, every possibility of it, resting upon her
embarrassment only; if there was not hope in her confusion,
there was hope in nothing else--that he was almost ready
to wonder at his friend's perseverance. Fanny was worth
it all; he held her to be worth every effort of patience,
every exertion of mind, but he did not think he could have
gone on himself with any woman breathing, without something
more to warm his courage than his eyes could discern in hers.
He was very willing to hope that Crawford saw clearer,
and this was the most comfortable conclusion for his
friend that he could come to from all that he observed
to pass before, and at, and after dinner.

In the evening a few circumstances occurred which he thought
more promising. When he and Crawford walked into the
drawing-room, his mother and Fanny were sitting as intently
and silently at work as if there were nothing else to care for.
Edmund could not help noticing their apparently deep tranquillity.

"We have not been so silent all the time," replied his mother.
"Fanny has been reading to me, and only put the book
down upon hearing you coming." And sure enough there
was a book on the table which had the air of being
very recently closed: a volume of Shakespeare.
"She often reads to me out of those books; and she
was in the middle of a very fine speech of that man's--
what's his name, Fanny?--when we heard your footsteps."

Crawford took the volume. "Let me have the pleasure
of finishing that speech to your ladyship," said he.
"I shall find it immediately." And by carefully giving
way to the inclination of the leaves, he did find it,
or within a page or two, quite near enough to satisfy
Lady Bertram, who assured him, as soon as he mentioned the
name of Cardinal Wolsey, that he had got the very speech.
Not a look or an offer of help had Fanny given; not a syllable
for or against. All her attention was for her work.
She seemed determined to be interested by nothing else.
But taste was too strong in her. She could not abstract
her mind five minutes: she was forced to listen; his reading
was capital, and her pleasure in good reading extreme.
To _good_ reading, however, she had been long used:
her uncle read well, her cousins all, Edmund very well,
but in Mr. Crawford's reading there was a variety of
excellence beyond what she had ever met with. The King,
the Queen, Buckingham, Wolsey, Cromwell, all were given
in turn; for with the happiest knack, the happiest
power of jumping and guessing, he could always alight
at will on the best scene, or the best speeches of each;
and whether it were dignity, or pride, or tenderness,
or remorse, or whatever were to be expressed, he could
do it with equal beauty. It was truly dramatic.
His acting had first taught Fanny what pleasure a play
might give, and his reading brought all his acting before
her again; nay, perhaps with greater enjoyment, for it
came unexpectedly, and with no such drawback as she had
been used to suffer in seeing him on the stage with Miss
Bertram.

Edmund watched the progress of her attention, and was
amused and gratified by seeing how she gradually slackened
in the needlework, which at the beginning seemed to
occupy her totally: how it fell from her hand while
she sat motionless over it, and at last, how the eyes
which had appeared so studiously to avoid him throughout
the day were turned and fixed on Crawford--fixed on him
for minutes, fixed on him, in short, till the attraction
drew Crawford's upon her, and the book was closed,
and the charm was broken. Then she was shrinking again
into herself, and blushing and working as hard as ever;
but it had been enough to give Edmund encouragement
for his friend, and as he cordially thanked him,
he hoped to be expressing Fanny's secret feelings too.

"That play must be a favourite with you," said he;
"you read as if you knew it well."

"It will be a favourite, I believe, from this hour,"
replied Crawford; "but I do not think I have had a volume
of Shakespeare in my hand before since I was fifteen.
I once saw Henry the Eighth acted, or I have heard
of it from somebody who did, I am not certain which.
But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how.
It is a part of an Englishman's constitution. His thoughts
and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches
them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct.
No man of any brain can open at a good part of one
of his plays without falling into the flow of his
meaning immediately."

"No doubt one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree,"
said Edmund, "from one's earliest years. His celebrated
passages are quoted by everybody; they are in half
the books we open, and we all talk Shakespeare,
use his similes, and describe with his descriptions;
but this is totally distinct from giving his sense as you
gave it. To know him in bits and scraps is common enough;
to know him pretty thoroughly is, perhaps, not uncommon;
but to read him well aloud is no everyday talent."

"Sir, you do me honour," was Crawford's answer, with a bow
of mock gravity.

Both gentlemen had a glance at Fanny, to see if a word
of accordant praise could be extorted from her; yet both
feeling that it could not be. Her praise had been given
in her attention; _that_ must content them.

Lady Bertram's admiration was expressed, and strongly too.
"It was really like being at a play," said she. "I wish
Sir Thomas had been here."

Crawford was excessively pleased. If Lady Bertram,
with all her incompetency and languor, could feel this,
the inference of what her niece, alive and enlightened
as she was, must feel, was elevating.

"You have a great turn for acting, I am sure, Mr. Crawford,"
said her ladyship soon afterwards; "and I will tell you what,
I think you will have a theatre, some time or other,
at your house in Norfolk. I mean when you are settled there.
I do indeed. I think you will fit up a theatre at your
house in Norfolk."

"Do you, ma'am?" cried he, with quickness. "No, no,
that will never be. Your ladyship is quite mistaken.
No theatre at Everingham! Oh no!" And he looked at Fanny
with an expressive smile, which evidently meant, "That lady
will never allow a theatre at Everingham."

Edmund saw it all, and saw Fanny so determined _not_ to see it,
as to make it clear that the voice was enough to convey
the full meaning of the protestation; and such a quick
consciousness of compliment, such a ready comprehension
of a hint, he thought, was rather favourable than not.

The subject of reading aloud was farther discussed.
The two young men were the only talkers, but they,
standing by the fire, talked over the too common neglect
of the qualification, the total inattention to it, in the
ordinary school-system for boys, the consequently natural,
yet in some instances almost unnatural, degree of ignorance
and uncouthness of men, of sensible and well-informed men,
when suddenly called to the necessity of reading aloud,
which had fallen within their notice, giving instances
of blunders, and failures with their secondary causes,
the want of management of the voice, of proper modulation
and emphasis, of foresight and judgment, all proceeding
from the first cause: want of early attention and habit;
and Fanny was listening again with great entertainment.

"Even in my profession," said Edmund, with a smile,
"how little the art of reading has been studied! how little
a clear manner, and good delivery, have been attended to!
I speak rather of the past, however, than the present.
There is now a spirit of improvement abroad; but among
those who were ordained twenty, thirty, forty years ago,
the larger number, to judge by their performance,
must have thought reading was reading, and preaching
was preaching. It is different now. The subject is more
justly considered. It is felt that distinctness and energy
may have weight in recommending the most solid truths;
and besides, there is more general observation and taste,
a more critical knowledge diffused than formerly;
in every congregation there is a larger proportion
who know a little of the matter, and who can judge
and criticise."

Edmund had already gone through the service once since
his ordination; and upon this being understood, he had
a variety of questions from Crawford as to his feelings
and success; questions, which being made, though with the
vivacity of friendly interest and quick taste, without any
touch of that spirit of banter or air of levity which Edmund
knew to be most offensive to Fanny, he had true pleasure
in satisfying; and when Crawford proceeded to ask his
opinion and give his own as to the properest manner in which
particular passages in the service should be delivered,
shewing it to be a subject on which he had thought before,
and thought with judgment, Edmund was still more and
more pleased. This would be the way to Fanny's heart.
She was not to be won by all that gallantry and wit and
good-nature together could do; or, at least, she would
not be won by them nearly so soon, without the assistance
of sentiment and feeling, and seriousness on serious subjects

"Our liturgy," observed Crawford, "has beauties, which not
even a careless, slovenly style of reading can destroy;
but it has also redundancies and repetitions which require
good reading not to be felt. For myself, at least, I must
confess being not always so attentive as I ought to be"
(here was a glance at Fanny); "that nineteen times out of
twenty I am thinking how such a prayer ought to be read,
and longing to have it to read myself. Did you speak?"
stepping eagerly to Fanny, and addressing her in a
softened voice; and upon her saying "No," he added,
"Are you sure you did not speak? I saw your lips move.
I fancied you might be going to tell me I ought to be
more attentive, and not _allow_ my thoughts to wander.
Are not you going to tell me so?"

"No, indeed, you know your duty too well for me to--
even supposing--"

She stopt, felt herself getting into a puzzle, and could
not be prevailed on to add another word, not by dint
of several minutes of supplication and waiting. He then
returned to his former station, and went on as if there
had been no such tender interruption.

"A sermon, well delivered, is more uncommon even than prayers
well read. A sermon, good in itself, is no rare thing.
It is more difficult to speak well than to compose well;
that is, the rules and trick of composition are
oftener an object of study. A thoroughly good sermon,
thoroughly well delivered, is a capital gratification.
I can never hear such a one without the greatest admiration
and respect, and more than half a mind to take orders
and preach myself. There is something in the eloquence
of the pulpit, when it is really eloquence, which is entitled
to the highest praise and honour. The preacher who can
touch and affect such an heterogeneous mass of hearers,
on subjects limited, and long worn threadbare in all
common hands; who can say anything new or striking,
anything that rouses the attention without offending the taste,
or wearing out the feelings of his hearers, is a man whom
one could not, in his public capacity, honour enough.
I should like to be such a man."

Edmund laughed.

"I should indeed. I never listened to a distinguished
preacher in my life without a sort of envy. But then,
I must have a London audience. I could not preach but
to the educated; to those who were capable of estimating
my composition. And I do not know that I should be fond
of preaching often; now and then, perhaps once or twice
in the spring, after being anxiously expected for half
a dozen Sundays together; but not for a constancy;
it would not do for a constancy."

Here Fanny, who could not but listen, involuntarily shook
her head, and Crawford was instantly by her side again,
entreating to know her meaning; and as Edmund perceived,
by his drawing in a chair, and sitting down close by her,
that it was to be a very thorough attack, that looks
and undertones were to be well tried, he sank as quietly
as possible into a corner, turned his back, and took up
a newspaper, very sincerely wishing that dear little
Fanny might be persuaded into explaining away that shake
of the head to the satisfaction of her ardent lover;
and as earnestly trying to bury every sound of the business
from himself in murmurs of his own, over the various
advertisements of "A most desirable Estate in South
Wales"; "To Parents and Guardians"; and a "Capital
season'd Hunter."

Fanny, meanwhile, vexed with herself for not having been
as motionless as she was speechless, and grieved to the heart
to see Edmund's arrangements, was trying by everything
in the power of her modest, gentle nature, to repulse
Mr. Crawford, and avoid both his looks and inquiries;
and he, unrepulsable, was persisting in both.

"What did that shake of the head mean?" said he. "What was
it meant to express? Disapprobation, I fear. But of what?
What had I been saying to displease you? Did you think me
speaking improperly, lightly, irreverently on the subject?
Only tell me if I was. Only tell me if I was wrong.
I want to be set right. Nay, nay, I entreat you;
for one moment put down your work. What did that shake
of the head mean?"

In vain was her "Pray, sir, don't; pray, Mr. Crawford,"
repeated twice over; and in vain did she try to move away.
In the same low, eager voice, and the same close neighbourhood,
he went on, reurging the same questions as before.
She grew more agitated and displeased.

"How can you, sir? You quite astonish me; I wonder
how you can--"

"Do I astonish you?" said he. "Do you wonder? Is there
anything in my present entreaty that you do not understand?
I will explain to you instantly all that makes me urge
you in this manner, all that gives me an interest in
what you look and do, and excites my present curiosity.
I will not leave you to wonder long."

In spite of herself, she could not help half a smile,
but she said nothing.

"You shook your head at my acknowledging that I should
not like to engage in the duties of a clergyman always
for a constancy. Yes, that was the word. Constancy: I am
not afraid of the word. I would spell it, read it,
write it with anybody. I see nothing alarming in the word.
Did you think I ought?"

"Perhaps, sir," said Fanny, wearied at last into speaking--
"perhaps, sir, I thought it was a pity you did not always
know yourself as well as you seemed to do at that moment."

Crawford, delighted to get her to speak at any rate,
was determined to keep it up; and poor Fanny, who had
hoped to silence him by such an extremity of reproof,
found herself sadly mistaken, and that it was only a change
from one object of curiosity and one set of words to another.
He had always something to entreat the explanation of.
The opportunity was too fair. None such had occurred
since his seeing her in her uncle's room, none such might
occur again before his leaving Mansfield. Lady Bertram's
being just on the other side of the table was a trifle,
for she might always be considered as only half-awake, and
Edmund's advertisements were still of the first utility.

"Well," said Crawford, after a course of rapid questions
and reluctant answers; "I am happier than I was, because I
now understand more clearly your opinion of me. You think
me unsteady: easily swayed by the whim of the moment,
easily tempted, easily put aside. With such an opinion,
no wonder that. But we shall see. It is not by protestations
that I shall endeavour to convince you I am wronged;
it is not by telling you that my affections are steady.
My conduct shall speak for me; absence, distance, time shall
speak for me. _They_ shall prove that, as far as you
can be deserved by anybody, I do deserve you. You are
infinitely my superior in merit; all _that_ I know.
You have qualities which I had not before supposed
to exist in such a degree in any human creature.
You have some touches of the angel in you beyond what--
not merely beyond what one sees, because one never sees
anything like it--but beyond what one fancies might be.
But still I am not frightened. It is not by equality of
merit that you can be won. That is out of the question.
It is he who sees and worships your merit the strongest,
who loves you most devotedly, that has the best
right to a return. There I build my confidence.
By that right I do and will deserve you; and when once
convinced that my attachment is what I declare it,
I know you too well not to entertain the warmest hopes.
Yes, dearest, sweetest Fanny. Nay" (seeing her draw back
displeased), "forgive me. Perhaps I have as yet no right;
but by what other name can I call you? Do you suppose
you are ever present to my imagination under any other?
No, it is 'Fanny' that I think of all day, and dream
of all night. You have given the name such reality
of sweetness, that nothing else can now be descriptive
of you."

Fanny could hardly have kept her seat any longer,
or have refrained from at least trying to get away in
spite of all the too public opposition she foresaw to it,
had it not been for the sound of approaching relief,
the very sound which she had been long watching for,
and long thinking strangely delayed.

The solemn procession, headed by Baddeley, of tea-board, urn,
and cake-bearers, made its appearance, and delivered
her from a grievous imprisonment of body and mind.
Mr. Crawford was obliged to move. She was at liberty,
she was busy, she was protected.

Edmund was not sorry to be admitted again among the
number of those who might speak and hear. But though
the conference had seemed full long to him, and though
on looking at Fanny he saw rather a flush of vexation,
he inclined to hope that so much could not have been
said and listened to without some profit to the speaker.




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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