It was not in Miss Crawford's power to talk Fanny into any real forgetfulnes_f what had passed. When the evening was over, she went to bed full of it, he_erves still agitated by the shock of such an attack from her cousin Tom, s_ublic and so persevered in, and her spirits sinking under her aunt's unkin_eflection and reproach. To be called into notice in such a manner, to hea_hat it was but the prelude to something so infinitely worse, to be told tha_he must do what was so impossible as to act; and then to have the charge o_bstinacy and ingratitude follow it, enforced with such a hint at th_ependence of her situation, had been too distressing at the time to make th_emembrance when she was alone much less so, especially with the superadde_read of what the morrow might produce in continuation of the subject. Mis_rawford had protected her only for the time; and if she were applied to agai_mong themselves with all the authoritative urgency that Tom and Maria wer_apable of, and Edmund perhaps away, what should she do? She fell aslee_efore she could answer the question, and found it quite as puzzling when sh_woke the next morning. The little white attic, which had continued he_leeping-room ever since her first entering the family, proving incompetent t_uggest any reply, she had recourse, as soon as she was dressed, to anothe_partment more spacious and more meet for walking about in and thinking, an_f which she had now for some time been almost equally mistress. It had bee_heir school-room; so called till the Miss Bertrams would not allow it to b_alled so any longer, and inhabited as such to a later period. There Miss Le_ad lived, and there they had read and written, and talked and laughed, til_ithin the last three years, when she had quitted them. The room had the_ecome useless, and for some time was quite deserted, except by Fanny, whe_he visited her plants, or wanted one of the books, which she was still gla_o keep there, from the deficiency of space and accommodation in her littl_hamber above: but gradually, as her value for the comforts of it increased,
she had added to her possessions, and spent more of her time there; and havin_othing to oppose her, had so naturally and so artlessly worked herself int_t, that it was now generally admitted to be hers. The East room, as it ha_een called ever since Maria Bertram was sixteen, was now considered Fanny's,
almost as decidedly as the white attic: the smallness of the one making th_se of the other so evidently reasonable that the Miss Bertrams, with ever_uperiority in their own apartments which their own sense of superiority coul_emand, were entirely approving it; and Mrs. Norris, having stipulated fo_here never being a fire in it on Fanny's account, was tolerably resigned t_er having the use of what nobody else wanted, though the terms in which sh_ometimes spoke of the indulgence seemed to imply that it was the best room i_he house.
The aspect was so favourable that even without a fire it was habitable in man_n early spring and late autumn morning to such a willing mind as Fanny's; an_hile there was a gleam of sunshine she hoped not to be driven from i_ntirely, even when winter came. The comfort of it in her hours of leisure wa_xtreme. She could go there after anything unpleasant below, and fin_mmediate consolation in some pursuit, or some train of thought at hand. He_lants, her books— of which she had been a collector from the first hour o_er commanding a shilling—her writing-desk, and her works of charity an_ngenuity, were all within her reach; or if indisposed for employment, i_othing but musing would do, she could scarcely see an object in that roo_hich had not an interesting remembrance connected with it. Everything was _riend, or bore her thoughts to a friend; and though there had been sometime_uch of suffering to her; though her motives had often been misunderstood, he_eelings disregarded, and her comprehension undervalued; though she had know_he pains of tyranny, of ridicule, and neglect, yet almost every recurrence o_ither had led to something consolatory: her aunt Bertram had spoken for her,
or Miss Lee had been encouraging, or, what was yet more frequent or more dear,
Edmund had been her champion and her friend: he had supported her cause o_xplained her meaning, he had told her not to cry, or had given her some proo_f affection which made her tears delightful; and the whole was now so blende_ogether, so harmonised by distance, that every former affliction had it_harm. The room was most dear to her, and she would not have changed it_urniture for the handsomest in the house, though what had been originall_lain had suffered all the ill-usage of children; and its greatest elegancie_nd ornaments were a faded footstool of Julia's work, too ill done for th_rawing-room, three transparencies, made in a rage for transparencies, for th_hree lower panes of one window, where Tintern Abbey held its station betwee_ cave in Italy and a moonlight lake in Cumberland, a collection of famil_rofiles, thought unworthy of being anywhere else, over the mantelpiece, an_y their side, and pinned against the wall, a small sketch of a ship sent fou_ears ago from the Mediterranean by William, with H.M.S. Antwerp at th_ottom, in letters as tall as the mainmast.
To this nest of comforts Fanny now walked down to try its influence on a_gitated, doubting spirit, to see if by looking at Edmund's profile she coul_atch any of his counsel, or by giving air to her geraniums she might inhale _reeze of mental strength herself. But she had more than fears of her ow_erseverance to remove: she had begun to feel undecided as to what she ough_o do; and as she walked round the room her doubts were increasing. Was sh_ight in refusing what was so warmly asked, so strongly wished for—what migh_e so essential to a scheme on which some of those to whom she owed th_reatest complaisance had set their hearts? Was it not ill-nature,
selfishness, and a fear of exposing herself? And would Edmund's judgment,
would his persuasion of Sir Thomas's disapprobation of the whole, be enough t_ustify her in a determined denial in spite of all the rest? It would be s_orrible to her to act that she was inclined to suspect the truth and purit_f her own scruples; and as she looked around her, the claims of her cousin_o being obliged were strengthened by the sight of present upon present tha_he had received from them. The table between the windows was covered wit_ork-boxes and netting-boxes which had been given her at different times,
principally by Tom; and she grew bewildered as to the amount of the debt whic_ll these kind remembrances produced. A tap at the door roused her in th_idst of this attempt to find her way to her duty, and her gentle "Come in"
was answered by the appearance of one, before whom all her doubts were wont t_e laid. Her eyes brightened at the sight of Edmund.
"Can I speak with you, Fanny, for a few minutes?" said he.
"I want to consult. I want your opinion."
"My opinion!" she cried, shrinking from such a compliment, highly as i_ratified her.
"Yes, your advice and opinion. I do not know what to do. This acting schem_ets worse and worse, you see. They have chosen almost as bad a play as the_ould, and now, to complete the business, are going to ask the help of a youn_an very slightly known to any of us. This is the end of all the privacy an_ropriety which was talked about at first. I know no harm of Charles Maddox;
but the excessive intimacy which must spring from his being admitted among u_n this manner is highly objectionable, the more than intimacy—th_amiliarity. I cannot think of it with any patience; and it does appear to m_n evil of such magnitude as must, if possible, be prevented. Do not you se_t in the same light?"
"Yes; but what can be done? Your brother is so determined."
"There is but one thing to be done, Fanny. I must take Anhalt myself. I a_ell aware that nothing else will quiet Tom."
Fanny could not answer him.
"It is not at all what I like," he continued. "No man can like being drive_nto the appearance of such inconsistency. After being known to oppose th_cheme from the beginning, there is absurdity in the face of my joining the_ow, when they are exceeding their first plan in every respect; but I ca_hink of no other alternative. Can you, Fanny?"
"No," said Fanny slowly, "not immediately, but—"
"But what? I see your judgment is not with me. Think it a little over. Perhap_ou are not so much aware as I am of the mischief that may, of th_npleasantness that must arise from a young man's being received in thi_anner: domesticated among us; authorised to come at all hours, and place_uddenly on a footing which must do away all restraints. To think only of th_icence which every rehearsal must tend to create. It is all very bad! Pu_ourself in Miss Crawford's place, Fanny. Consider what it would be to ac_melia with a stranger. She has a right to be felt for, because she evidentl_eels for herself. I heard enough of what she said to you last night t_nderstand her unwillingness to be acting with a stranger; and as she probabl_ngaged in the part with different expectations—perhaps without considerin_he subject enough to know what was likely to be— it would be ungenerous, i_ould be really wrong to expose her to it. Her feelings ought to be respected.
Does it not strike you so, Fanny? You hesitate."
"I am sorry for Miss Crawford; but I am more sorry to see you drawn in to d_hat you had resolved against, and what you are known to think will b_isagreeable to my uncle. It will be such a triumph to the others!"
"They will not have much cause of triumph when they see how infamously I act.
But, however, triumph there certainly will be, and I must brave it. But if _an be the means of restraining the publicity of the business, of limiting th_xhibition, of concentrating our folly, I shall be well repaid. As I am now, _ave no influence, I can do nothing: I have offended them, and they will no_ear me; but when I have put them in good-humour by this concession, I am no_ithout hopes of persuading them to confine the representation within a muc_maller circle than they are now in the high road for. This will be a materia_ain. My object is to confine it to Mrs. Rushworth and the Grants. Will no_his be worth gaining?"
"Yes, it will be a great point."
"But still it has not your approbation. Can you mention any other measure b_hich I have a chance of doing equal good?"
"No, I cannot think of anything else."
"Give me your approbation, then, Fanny. I am not comfortable without it."
"If you are against me, I ought to distrust myself, and yet—But it i_bsolutely impossible to let Tom go on in this way, riding about the countr_n quest of anybody who can be persuaded to act—no matter whom: the look of _entleman is to be enough. I thought you would have entered more into Mis_rawford's feelings."
"No doubt she will be very glad. It must be a great relief to her," sai_anny, trying for greater warmth of manner.
"She never appeared more amiable than in her behaviour to you last night. I_ave her a very strong claim on my goodwill."
"She was very kind, indeed, and I am glad to have her spared"…
She could not finish the generous effusion. Her conscience stopt her in th_iddle, but Edmund was satisfied.
"I shall walk down immediately after breakfast," said he, "and am sure o_iving pleasure there. And now, dear Fanny, I will not interrupt you an_onger. You want to be reading. But I could not be easy till I had spoken t_ou, and come to a decision. Sleeping or waking, my head has been full of thi_atter all night. It is an evil, but I am certainly making it less than i_ight be. If Tom is up, I shall go to him directly and get it over, and whe_e meet at breakfast we shall be all in high good-humour at the prospect o_cting the fool together with such unanimity. You, in the meanwhile, will b_aking a trip into China, I suppose. How does Lord Macartney go on?"—opening _olume on the table and then taking up some others. "And here are Crabbe'_ales, and the Idler, at hand to relieve you, if you tire of your great book.
I admire your little establishment exceedingly; and as soon as I am gone, yo_ill empty your head of all this nonsense of acting, and sit comfortably dow_o your table. But do not stay here to be cold."
He went; but there was no reading, no China, no composure for Fanny. He ha_old her the most extraordinary, the most inconceivable, the most unwelcom_ews; and she could think of nothing else. To be acting! After all hi_bjections—objections so just and so public! After all that she had heard hi_ay, and seen him look, and known him to be feeling. Could it be possible?
Edmund so inconsistent! Was he not deceiving himself? Was he not wrong? Alas!
it was all Miss Crawford's doing. She had seen her influence in every speech,
and was miserable. The doubts and alarms as to her own conduct, which ha_reviously distressed her, and which had all slept while she listened to him,
were become of little consequence now. This deeper anxiety swallowed them up.
Things should take their course; she cared not how it ended. Her cousins migh_ttack, but could hardly tease her. She was beyond their reach; and if at las_bliged to yield—no matter—it was all misery now.