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CHAPTER XLII

The Prices were just setting off for church the next day
when Mr. Crawford appeared again. He came, not to stop,
but to join them; he was asked to go with them to the
Garrison chapel, which was exactly what he had intended,
and they all walked thither together.

The family were now seen to advantage. Nature had given
them no inconsiderable share of beauty, and every Sunday
dressed them in their cleanest skins and best attire.
Sunday always brought this comfort to Fanny, and on this
Sunday she felt it more than ever. Her poor mother now
did not look so very unworthy of being Lady Bertram's
sister as she was but too apt to look. It often grieved
her to the heart to think of the contrast between them;
to think that where nature had made so little difference,
circumstances should have made so much, and that her mother,
as handsome as Lady Bertram, and some years her junior,
should have an appearance so much more worn and faded,
so comfortless, so slatternly, so shabby. But Sunday
made her a very creditable and tolerably cheerful-looking
Mrs. Price, coming abroad with a fine family of children,
feeling a little respite of her weekly cares, and only
discomposed if she saw her boys run into danger, or Rebecca
pass by with a flower in her hat.

In chapel they were obliged to divide, but Mr. Crawford
took care not to be divided from the female branch;
and after chapel he still continued with them, and made
one in the family party on the ramparts.

Mrs. Price took her weekly walk on the ramparts every
fine Sunday throughout the year, always going directly
after morning service and staying till dinner-time. It
was her public place: there she met her acquaintance,
heard a little news, talked over the badness of the
Portsmouth servants, and wound up her spirits for the six
days ensuing.

Thither they now went; Mr. Crawford most happy to consider
the Miss Prices as his peculiar charge; and before they
had been there long, somehow or other, there was no
saying how, Fanny could not have believed it, but he
was walking between them with an arm of each under his,
and she did not know how to prevent or put an end to it.
It made her uncomfortable for a time, but yet there
were enjoyments in the day and in the view which would
be felt.

The day was uncommonly lovely. It was really March;
but it was April in its mild air, brisk soft wind,
and bright sun, occasionally clouded for a minute;
and everything looked so beautiful under the influence
of such a sky, the effects of the shadows pursuing each
other on the ships at Spithead and the island beyond,
with the ever-varying hues of the sea, now at high water,
dancing in its glee and dashing against the ramparts with
so fine a sound, produced altogether such a combination
of charms for Fanny, as made her gradually almost careless
of the circumstances under which she felt them. Nay, had she
been without his arm, she would soon have known that she
needed it, for she wanted strength for a two hours'
saunter of this kind, coming, as it generally did,
upon a week's previous inactivity. Fanny was beginning
to feel the effect of being debarred from her usual
regular exercise; she had lost ground as to health
since her being in Portsmouth; and but for Mr. Crawford
and the beauty of the weather would soon have been knocked
up now.

The loveliness of the day, and of the view, he felt
like herself. They often stopt with the same sentiment
and taste, leaning against the wall, some minutes,
to look and admire; and considering he was not Edmund,
Fanny could not but allow that he was sufficiently open
to the charms of nature, and very well able to express
his admiration. She had a few tender reveries now and then,
which he could sometimes take advantage of to look in her
face without detection; and the result of these looks was,
that though as bewitching as ever, her face was less
blooming than it ought to be. She _said_ she was
very well, and did not like to be supposed otherwise;
but take it all in all, he was convinced that her present
residence could not be comfortable, and therefore could
not be salutary for her, and he was growing anxious for
her being again at Mansfield, where her own happiness,
and his in seeing her, must be so much greater.

"You have been here a month, I think?" said he.

"No; not quite a month. It is only four weeks to-morrow
since I left Mansfield."

"You are a most accurate and honest reckoner. I should
call that a month."

"I did not arrive here till Tuesday evening."

"And it is to be a two months' visit, is not?"

"Yes. My uncle talked of two months. I suppose it
will not be less."

"And how are you to be conveyed back again? Who comes
for you?"

"I do not know. I have heard nothing about it yet
from my aunt. Perhaps I may be to stay longer.
It may not be convenient for me to be fetched exactly
at the two months' end."

After a moment's reflection, Mr. Crawford replied,
"I know Mansfield, I know its way, I know its faults
towards _you_. I know the danger of your being so
far forgotten, as to have your comforts give way to the
imaginary convenience of any single being in the family.
I am aware that you may be left here week after week,
if Sir Thomas cannot settle everything for coming himself,
or sending your aunt's maid for you, without involving
the slightest alteration of the arrangements which he
may have laid down for the next quarter of a year.
This will not do. Two months is an ample allowance;
I should think six weeks quite enough. I am considering
your sister's health," said he, addressing himself to Susan,
"which I think the confinement of Portsmouth unfavourable to.
She requires constant air and exercise. When you know her
as well as I do, I am sure you will agree that she does,
and that she ought never to be long banished from the free air
and liberty of the country. If, therefore" (turning again
to Fanny), "you find yourself growing unwell, and any
difficulties arise about your returning to Mansfield,
without waiting for the two months to be ended,
_that_ must not be regarded as of any consequence,
if you feel yourself at all less strong or comfortable
than usual, and will only let my sister know it, give her
only the slightest hint, she and I will immediately
come down, and take you back to Mansfield. You know
the ease and the pleasure with which this would be done.
You know all that would be felt on the occasion."

Fanny thanked him, but tried to laugh it off.

"I am perfectly serious," he replied, "as you perfectly know.
And I hope you will not be cruelly concealing any
tendency to indisposition. Indeed, you shall _not_;
it shall not be in your power; for so long only as you
positively say, in every letter to Mary, 'I am well,'
and I know you cannot speak or write a falsehood, so long
only shall you be considered as well."

Fanny thanked him again, but was affected and distressed
to a degree that made it impossible for her to say much,
or even to be certain of what she ought to say.
This was towards the close of their walk. He attended
them to the last, and left them only at the door of their
own house, when he knew them to be going to dinner,
and therefore pretended to be waited for elsewhere.

"I wish you were not so tired," said he, still detaining
Fanny after all the others were in the house--"I wish I
left you in stronger health. Is there anything I can
do for you in town? I have half an idea of going into
Norfolk again soon. I am not satisfied about Maddison.
I am sure he still means to impose on me if possible,
and get a cousin of his own into a certain mill, which I
design for somebody else. I must come to an understanding
with him. I must make him know that I will not be
tricked on the south side of Everingham, any more than on
the north: that I will be master of my own property.
I was not explicit enough with him before. The mischief
such a man does on an estate, both as to the credit of his
employer and the welfare of the poor, is inconceivable.
I have a great mind to go back into Norfolk directly,
and put everything at once on such a footing as cannot
be afterwards swerved from. Maddison is a clever fellow;
I do not wish to displace him, provided he does not try
to displace _me_; but it would be simple to be duped
by a man who has no right of creditor to dupe me,
and worse than simple to let him give me a hard-hearted,
griping fellow for a tenant, instead of an honest man,
to whom I have given half a promise already. Would it not
be worse than simple? Shall I go? Do you advise it?"

"I advise! You know very well what is right."

"Yes. When you give me your opinion, I always know
what is right. Your judgment is my rule of right."

"Oh, no! do not say so. We have all a better guide
in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person
can be. Good-bye; I wish you a pleasant journey to-morrow."

"Is there nothing I can do for you in town?"

"Nothing; I am much obliged to you."

"Have you no message for anybody?"

"My love to your sister, if you please; and when you see
my cousin, my cousin Edmund, I wish you would be so good
as to say that I suppose I shall soon hear from him."

"Certainly; and if he is lazy or negligent, I will write
his excuses myself."

He could say no more, for Fanny would be no longer detained.
He pressed her hand, looked at her, and was gone.
_He_ went to while away the next three hours as he could,
with his other acquaintance, till the best dinner that
a capital inn afforded was ready for their enjoyment,
and _she_ turned in to her more simple one immediately.

Their general fare bore a very different character;
and could he have suspected how many privations, besides that
of exercise, she endured in her father's house, he would
have wondered that her looks were not much more affected
than he found them. She was so little equal to Rebecca's
puddings and Rebecca's hashes, brought to table, as they
all were, with such accompaniments of half-cleaned plates,
and not half-cleaned knives and forks, that she was very
often constrained to defer her heartiest meal till she could
send her brothers in the evening for biscuits and buns.
After being nursed up at Mansfield, it was too late in the
day to be hardened at Portsmouth; and though Sir Thomas,
had he known all, might have thought his niece in the
most promising way of being starved, both mind and body,
into a much juster value for Mr. Crawford's good company
and good fortune, he would probably have feared to push
his experiment farther, lest she might die under the cure.

Fanny was out of spirits all the rest of the day.
Though tolerably secure of not seeing Mr. Crawford again,
she could not help being low. It was parting with somebody
of the nature of a friend; and though, in one light,
glad to have him gone, it seemed as if she was now
deserted by everybody; it was a sort of renewed separation
from Mansfield; and she could not think of his returning
to town, and being frequently with Mary and Edmund,
without feelings so near akin to envy as made her hate
herself for having them.

Her dejection had no abatement from anything passing
around her; a friend or two of her father's, as always
happened if he was not with them, spent the long,
long evening there; and from six o'clock till half-past nine,
there was little intermission of noise or grog. She was
very low. The wonderful improvement which she still
fancied in Mr. Crawford was the nearest to administering
comfort of anything within the current of her thoughts.
Not considering in how different a circle she had been
just seeing him, nor how much might be owing to contrast,
she was quite persuaded of his being astonishingly
more gentle and regardful of others than formerly.
And, if in little things, must it not be so in great?
So anxious for her health and comfort, so very feeling
as he now expressed himself, and really seemed, might not
it be fairly supposed that he would not much longer
persevere in a suit so distressing to her?




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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