Sir Thomas was to return in November, and his eldest son had duties to cal_im earlier home. The approach of September brought tidings of Mr. Bertram,
first in a letter to the gamekeeper and then in a letter to Edmund; and by th_nd of August he arrived himself, to be gay, agreeable, and gallant again a_ccasion served, or Miss Crawford demanded; to tell of races and Weymouth, an_arties and friends, to which she might have listened six weeks before wit_ome interest, and altogether to give her the fullest conviction, by the powe_f actual comparison, of her preferring his younger brother.
It was very vexatious, and she was heartily sorry for it; but so it was; an_o far from now meaning to marry the elder, she did not even want to attrac_im beyond what the simplest claims of conscious beauty required: hi_engthened absence from Mansfield, without anything but pleasure in view, an_is own will to consult, made it perfectly clear that he did not care abou_er; and his indifference was so much more than equalled by her own, that wer_e now to step forth the owner of Mansfield Park, the Sir Thomas complete,
which he was to be in time, she did not believe she could accept him.
The season and duties which brought Mr. Bertram back to Mansfield took Mr.
Crawford into Norfolk. Everingham could not do without him in the beginning o_eptember. He went for a fortnight—a fortnight of such dullness to the Mis_ertrams as ought to have put them both on their guard, and made even Juli_dmit, in her jealousy of her sister, the absolute necessity of distrustin_is attentions, and wishing him not to return; and a fortnight of sufficien_eisure, in the intervals of shooting and sleeping, to have convinced th_entleman that he ought to keep longer away, had he been more in the habit o_xamining his own motives, and of reflecting to what the indulgence of hi_dle vanity was tending; but, thoughtless and selfish from prosperity and ba_xample, he would not look beyond the present moment. The sisters, handsome,
clever, and encouraging, were an amusement to his sated mind; and findin_othing in Norfolk to equal the social pleasures of Mansfield, he gladl_eturned to it at the time appointed, and was welcomed thither quite as gladl_y those whom he came to trifle with further.
Maria, with only Mr. Rushworth to attend to her, and doomed to the repeate_etails of his day's sport, good or bad, his boast of his dogs, his jealous_f his neighbours, his doubts of their qualifications, and his zeal afte_oachers, subjects which will not find their way to female feelings withou_ome talent on one side or some attachment on the other, had missed Mr.
Crawford grievously; and Julia, unengaged and unemployed, felt all the righ_f missing him much more. Each sister believed herself the favourite. Juli_ight be justified in so doing by the hints of Mrs. Grant, inclined to credi_hat she wished, and Maria by the hints of Mr. Crawford himself. Everythin_eturned into the same channel as before his absence; his manners being t_ach so animated and agreeable as to lose no ground with either, and jus_topping short of the consistence, the steadiness, the solicitude, and th_armth which might excite general notice.
Fanny was the only one of the party who found anything to dislike; but sinc_he day at Sotherton, she could never see Mr. Crawford with either siste_ithout observation, and seldom without wonder or censure; and had he_onfidence in her own judgment been equal to her exercise of it in every othe_espect, had she been sure that she was seeing clearly, and judging candidly,
she would probably have made some important communications to her usua_onfidant. As it was, however, she only hazarded a hint, and the hint wa_ost. "I am rather surprised," said she, "that Mr. Crawford should come bac_gain so soon, after being here so long before, full seven weeks; for I ha_nderstood he was so very fond of change and moving about, that I though_omething would certainly occur, when he was once gone, to take him elsewhere.
He is used to much gayer places than Mansfield."
"It is to his credit," was Edmund's answer; "and I dare say it gives hi_ister pleasure. She does not like his unsettled habits."
"What a favourite he is with my cousins!"
"Yes, his manners to women are such as must please. Mrs. Grant, I believe,
suspects him of a preference for Julia; I have never seen much symptom of it,
but I wish it may be so. He has no faults but what a serious attachment woul_emove."
"If Miss Bertram were not engaged," said Fanny cautiously, "I could sometime_lmost think that he admired her more than Julia."
"Which is, perhaps, more in favour of his liking Julia best, than you, Fanny,
may be aware; for I believe it often happens that a man, before he has quit_ade up his own mind, will distinguish the sister or intimate friend of th_oman he is really thinking of more than the woman herself Crawford has to_uch sense to stay here if he found himself in any danger from Maria; and I a_ot at all afraid for her, after such a proof as she has given that he_eelings are not strong."
Fanny supposed she must have been mistaken, and meant to think differently i_uture; but with all that submission to Edmund could do, and all the help o_he coinciding looks and hints which she occasionally noticed in some of th_thers, and which seemed to say that Julia was Mr. Crawford's choice, she kne_ot always what to think. She was privy, one evening, to the hopes of her aun_orris on the subject, as well as to her feelings, and the feelings of Mrs.
Rushworth, on a point of some similarity, and could not help wondering as sh_istened; and glad would she have been not to be obliged to listen, for it wa_hile all the other young people were dancing, and she sitting, mos_nwillingly, among the chaperons at the fire, longing for the re-entrance o_er elder cousin, on whom all her own hopes of a partner then depended. It wa_anny's first ball, though without the preparation or splendour of many _oung lady's first ball, being the thought only of the afternoon, built on th_ate acquisition of a violin player in the servants' hall, and the possibilit_f raising five couple with the help of Mrs. Grant and a new intimate frien_f Mr. Bertram's just arrived on a visit. It had, however, been a very happ_ne to Fanny through four dances, and she was quite grieved to be losing eve_ quarter of an hour. While waiting and wishing, looking now at the dancer_nd now at the door, this dialogue between the two above-mentioned ladies wa_orced on her—
"I think, ma'am," said Mrs. Norris, her eyes directed towards Mr. Rushwort_nd Maria, who were partners for the second time, "we shall see some happ_aces again now."
"Yes, ma'am, indeed," replied the other, with a stately simper, "there will b_ome satisfaction in looking on now, and I think it was rather a pity the_hould have been obliged to part. Young folks in their situation should b_xcused complying with the common forms. I wonder my son did not propose it."
"I dare say he did, ma'am. Mr. Rushworth is never remiss. But dear Maria ha_uch a strict sense of propriety, so much of that true delicacy which on_eldom meets with nowadays, Mrs. Rushworth—that wish of avoidin_articularity! Dear ma'am, only look at her face at this moment; how differen_rom what it was the two last dances!"
Miss Bertram did indeed look happy, her eyes were sparkling with pleasure, an_he was speaking with great animation, for Julia and her partner, Mr.
Crawford, were close to her; they were all in a cluster together. How she ha_ooked before, Fanny could not recollect, for she had been dancing with Edmun_erself, and had not thought about her.
Mrs. Norris continued, "It is quite delightful, ma'am, to see young people s_roperly happy, so well suited, and so much the thing! I cannot but think o_ear Sir Thomas's delight. And what do you say, ma'am, to the chance o_nother match? Mr. Rushworth has set a good example, and such things are ver_atching."
Mrs. Rushworth, who saw nothing but her son, was quite at a loss.
"The couple above, ma'am. Do you see no symptoms there?"
"Oh dear! Miss Julia and Mr. Crawford. Yes, indeed, a very pretty match. Wha_s his property?"
"Four thousand a year."
"Very well. Those who have not more must be satisfied with what they have.
Four thousand a year is a pretty estate, and he seems a very genteel, stead_oung man, so I hope Miss Julia will be very happy."
"It is not a settled thing, ma'am, yet. We only speak of it among friends. Bu_ have very little doubt it will be. He is growing extremely particular in hi_ttentions."
Fanny could listen no farther. Listening and wondering were all suspended fo_ time, for Mr. Bertram was in the room again; and though feeling it would b_ great honour to be asked by him, she thought it must happen. He came toward_heir little circle; but instead of asking her to dance, drew a chair nea_er, and gave her an account of the present state of a sick horse, and th_pinion of the groom, from whom he had just parted. Fanny found that it wa_ot to be, and in the modesty of her nature immediately felt that she had bee_nreasonable in expecting it. When he had told of his horse, he took _ewspaper from the table, and looking over it, said in a languid way, "If yo_ant to dance, Fanny, I will stand up with you." With more than equal civilit_he offer was declined; she did not wish to dance. "I am glad of it," said he,
in a much brisker tone, and throwing down the newspaper again, "for I am tire_o death. I only wonder how the good people can keep it up so long. They ha_eed be all in love, to find any amusement in such folly; and so they are, _ancy. If you look at them you may see they are so many couple of lovers—al_ut Yates and Mrs. Grant—and, between ourselves, she, poor woman, must want _over as much as any one of them. A desperate dull life hers must be with th_octor," making a sly face as he spoke towards the chair of the latter, wh_roving, however, to be close at his elbow, made so instantaneous a change o_xpression and subject necessary, as Fanny, in spite of everything, coul_ardly help laughing at. "A strange business this in America, Dr. Grant! Wha_s your opinion? I always come to you to know what I am to think of publi_atters."
"My dear Tom," cried his aunt soon afterwards, "as you are not dancing, I dar_ay you will have no objection to join us in a rubber; shall you?" The_eaving her seat, and coming to him to enforce the proposal, added in _hisper, "We want to make a table for Mrs. Rushworth, you know. Your mother i_uite anxious about it, but cannot very well spare time to sit down herself,
because of her fringe. Now, you and I and Dr. Grant will just do; and thoug_e play but half-crowns, you know, you may bet half-guineas with him."
"I should be most happy," replied he aloud, and jumping up with alacrity, "i_ould give me the greatest pleasure; but that I am this moment going t_ance." Come, Fanny, taking her hand, "do not be dawdling any longer, or th_ance will be over."
Fanny was led off very willingly, though it was impossible for her to fee_uch gratitude towards her cousin, or distinguish, as he certainly did,
between the selfishness of another person and his own.
"A pretty modest request upon my word," he indignantly exclaimed as the_alked away. "To want to nail me to a card-table for the next two hours wit_erself and Dr. Grant, who are always quarrelling, and that poking old woman,
who knows no more of whist than of algebra. I wish my good aunt would be _ittle less busy! And to ask me in such a way too! without ceremony, befor_hem all, so as to leave me no possibility of refusing. That is what I dislik_ost particularly. It raises my spleen more than anything, to have th_retence of being asked, of being given a choice, and at the same tim_ddressed in such a way as to oblige one to do the very thing, whatever it be!
If I had not luckily thought of standing up with you I could not have got ou_f it. It is a great deal too bad. But when my aunt has got a fancy in he_ead, nothing can stop her."