"But why should Mrs. Grant ask Fanny?" said Lady Bertram. "How came she t_hink of asking Fanny? Fanny never dines there, you know, in this sort of way.
I cannot spare her, and I am sure she does not want to go. Fanny, you do no_ant to go, do you?"
"If you put such a question to her," cried Edmund, preventing his cousin'_peaking, "Fanny will immediately say No; but I am sure, my dear mother, sh_ould like to go; and I can see no reason why she should not."
"I cannot imagine why Mrs. Grant should think of asking her? She never di_efore. She used to ask your sisters now and then, but she never asked Fanny."
"If you cannot do without me, ma'am—" said Fanny, in a self-denying tone.
"But my mother will have my father with her all the evening."
"To be sure, so I shall."
"Suppose you take my father's opinion, ma'am."
"That's well thought of. So I will, Edmund. I will ask Sir Thomas, as soon a_e comes in, whether I can do without her."
"As you please, ma'am, on that head; but I meant my father's opinion as to th_ropriety of the invitation's being accepted or not; and I think he wil_onsider it a right thing by Mrs. Grant, as well as by Fanny, that being th_irst invitation it should be accepted."
"I do not know. We will ask him. But he will be very much surprised that Mrs.
Grant should ask Fanny at all."
There was nothing more to be said, or that could be said to any purpose, til_ir Thomas were present; but the subject involving, as it did, her ow_vening's comfort for the morrow, was so much uppermost in Lady Bertram'_ind, that half an hour afterwards, on his looking in for a minute in his wa_rom his plantation to his dressing-room, she called him back again, when h_ad almost closed the door, with "Sir Thomas, stop a moment—I have somethin_o say to you."
Her tone of calm languor, for she never took the trouble of raising her voice, was always heard and attended to; and Sir Thomas came back. Her story began; and Fanny immediately slipped out of the room; for to hear herself the subjec_f any discussion with her uncle was more than her nerves could bear. She wa_nxious, she knew— more anxious perhaps than she ought to be—for what was i_fter all whether she went or staid? but if her uncle were to be a great whil_onsidering and deciding, and with very grave looks, and those grave look_irected to her, and at last decide against her, she might not be able t_ppear properly submissive and indifferent. Her cause, meanwhile, went o_ell. It began, on Lady Bertram's part, with—"I have something to tell yo_hat will surprise you. Mrs. Grant has asked Fanny to dinner."
"Well," said Sir Thomas, as if waiting more to accomplish the surprise.
"Edmund wants her to go. But how can I spare her?"
"She will be late," said Sir Thomas, taking out his watch; "but what is you_ifficulty?"
Edmund found himself obliged to speak and fill up the blanks in his mother'_tory. He told the whole; and she had only to add, "So strange! for Mrs. Gran_ever used to ask her."
"But is it not very natural," observed Edmund, "that Mrs. Grant should wish t_rocure so agreeable a visitor for her sister?"
"Nothing can be more natural," said Sir Thomas, after a short deliberation;
"nor, were there no sister in the case, could anything, in my opinion, be mor_atural. Mrs. Grant's shewing civility to Miss Price, to Lady Bertram's niece, could never want explanation. The only surprise I can feel is, that thi_hould be the first time of its being paid. Fanny was perfectly right i_iving only a conditional answer. She appears to feel as she ought. But as _onclude that she must wish to go, since all young people like to be together, I can see no reason why she should be denied the indulgence."
"But can I do without her, Sir Thomas?"
"Indeed I think you may."
"She always makes tea, you know, when my sister is not here."
"Your sister, perhaps, may be prevailed on to spend the day with us, and _hall certainly be at home."
"Very well, then, Fanny may go, Edmund."
The good news soon followed her. Edmund knocked at her door in his way to hi_wn.
"Well, Fanny, it is all happily settled, and without the smallest hesitatio_n your uncle's side. He had but one opinion. You are to go."
"Thank you, I am so glad," was Fanny's instinctive reply; though when she ha_urned from him and shut the door, she could not help feeling, "And yet wh_hould I be glad? for am I not certain of seeing or hearing something there t_ain me?"
In spite of this conviction, however, she was glad. Simple as such a_ngagement might appear in other eyes, it had novelty and importance in hers, for excepting the day at Sotherton, she had scarcely ever dined out before; and though now going only half a mile, and only to three people, still it wa_ining out, and all the little interests of preparation were enjoyments i_hemselves. She had neither sympathy nor assistance from those who ought t_ave entered into her feelings and directed her taste; for Lady Bertram neve_hought of being useful to anybody, and Mrs. Norris, when she came on th_orrow, in consequence of an early call and invitation from Sir Thomas, was i_ very ill humour, and seemed intent only on lessening her niece's pleasure, both present and future, as much as possible.
"Upon my word, Fanny, you are in high luck to meet with such attention an_ndulgence! You ought to be very much obliged to Mrs. Grant for thinking o_ou, and to your aunt for letting you go, and you ought to look upon it a_omething extraordinary; for I hope you are aware that there is no rea_ccasion for your going into company in this sort of way, or ever dining ou_t all; and it is what you must not depend upon ever being repeated. Nor mus_ou be fancying that the invitation is meant as any particular compliment t_ou; the compliment is intended to your uncle and aunt and me. Mrs. Gran_hinks it a civility due to us to take a little notice of you, or else i_ould never have come into her head, and you may be very certain that, if you_ousin Julia had been at home, you would not have been asked at all."
Mrs. Norris had now so ingeniously done away all Mrs. Grant's part of th_avour, that Fanny, who found herself expected to speak, could only say tha_he was very much obliged to her aunt Bertram for sparing her, and that sh_as endeavouring to put her aunt's evening work in such a state as to preven_er being missed.
"Oh! depend upon it, your aunt can do very well without you, or you would no_e allowed to go. I shall be here, so you may be quite easy about your aunt.
And I hope you will have a very agreeable day, and find it all might_elightful. But I must observe that five is the very awkwardest of al_ossible numbers to sit down to table; and I cannot but be surprised that suc_n elegant lady as Mrs. Grant should not contrive better! And round thei_normous great wide table, too, which fills up the room so dreadfully! Had th_octor been contented to take my dining-table when I came away, as anybody i_heir senses would have done, instead of having that absurd new one of hi_wn, which is wider, literally wider than the dinner-table here, ho_nfinitely better it would have been! and how much more he would have bee_espected! for people are never respected when they step out of their prope_phere. Remember that, Fanny. Five—only five to be sitting round that table.
However, you will have dinner enough on it for ten, I dare say."
Mrs. Norris fetched breath, and went on again.
"The nonsense and folly of people's stepping out of their rank and trying t_ppear above themselves, makes me think it right to give you a hint, Fanny, now that you are going into company without any of us; and I do beseech an_ntreat you not to be putting yourself forward, and talking and giving you_pinion as if you were one of your cousins—as if you were dear Mrs. Rushwort_r Julia. That will never do, believe me. Remember, wherever you are, you mus_e the lowest and last; and though Miss Crawford is in a manner at home at th_arsonage, you are not to be taking place of her. And as to coming away a_ight, you are to stay just as long as Edmund chuses. Leave him to settl_hat."
"Yes, ma'am, I should not think of anything else."
"And if it should rain, which I think exceedingly likely, for I never saw i_ore threatening for a wet evening in my life, you must manage as well as yo_an, and not be expecting the carriage to be sent for you. I certainly do no_o home to-night, and, therefore, the carriage will not be out on my account; so you must make up your mind to what may happen, and take your thing_ccordingly."
Her niece thought it perfectly reasonable. She rated her own claims to comfor_s low even as Mrs. Norris could; and when Sir Thomas soon afterwards, jus_pening the door, said, "Fanny, at what time would you have the carriage com_ound?" she felt a degree of astonishment which made it impossible for her t_peak.
"My dear Sir Thomas!" cried Mrs. Norris, red with anger, "Fanny can walk."
"Walk!" repeated Sir Thomas, in a tone of most unanswerable dignity, an_oming farther into the room. "My niece walk to a dinner engagement at thi_ime of the year! Will twenty minutes after four suit you?"
"Yes, sir," was Fanny's humble answer, given with the feelings almost of _riminal towards Mrs. Norris; and not bearing to remain with her in what migh_eem a state of triumph, she followed her uncle out of the room, having stai_ehind him only long enough to hear these words spoken in angry agitation—
"Quite unnecessary! a great deal too kind! But Edmund goes; true, it is upo_dmund's account. I observed he was hoarse on Thursday night."
But this could not impose on Fanny. She felt that the carriage was fo_erself, and herself alone: and her uncle's consideration of her, comin_mmediately after such representations from her aunt, cost her some tears o_ratitude when she was alone.
The coachman drove round to a minute; another minute brought down th_entleman; and as the lady had, with a most scrupulous fear of being late, been many minutes seated in the drawing-room, Sir Thomas saw them off in a_ood time as his own correctly punctual habits required.
"Now I must look at you, Fanny," said Edmund, with the kind smile of a_ffectionate brother, "and tell you how I like you; and as well as I can judg_y this light, you look very nicely indeed. What have you got on?"
"The new dress that my uncle was so good as to give me on my cousin'_arriage. I hope it is not too fine; but I thought I ought to wear it as soo_s I could, and that I might not have such another opportunity all the winter.
I hope you do not think me too fine."
"A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white. No, I see no finer_bout you; nothing but what is perfectly proper. Your gown seems very pretty.
I like these glossy spots. Has not Miss Crawford a gown something the same?"
In approaching the Parsonage they passed close by the stable-yard and coach- house.
"Heyday!" said Edmund, "here's company, here's a carriage! who have they go_o meet us?" And letting down the side-glass to distinguish, "'Tis Crawford's, Crawford's barouche, I protest! There are his own two men pushing it back int_ts old quarters. He is here, of course. This is quite a surprise, Fanny. _hall be very glad to see him."
There was no occasion, there was no time for Fanny to say how very differentl_he felt; but the idea of having such another to observe her was a grea_ncrease of the trepidation with which she performed the very awful ceremon_f walking into the drawing-room.
In the drawing-room Mr. Crawford certainly was, having been just long enoug_rrived to be ready for dinner; and the smiles and pleased looks of the thre_thers standing round him, shewed how welcome was his sudden resolution o_oming to them for a few days on leaving Bath. A very cordial meeting passe_etween him and Edmund; and with the exception of Fanny, the pleasure wa_eneral; and even to her there might be some advantage in his presence, sinc_very addition to the party must rather forward her favourite indulgence o_eing suffered to sit silent and unattended to. She was soon aware of thi_erself; for though she must submit, as her own propriety of mind directed, i_pite of her aunt Norris's opinion, to being the principal lady in company, and to all the little distinctions consequent thereon, she found, while the_ere at table, such a happy flow of conversation prevailing, in which she wa_ot required to take any part—there was so much to be said between the brothe_nd sister about Bath, so much between the two young men about hunting, s_uch of politics between Mr. Crawford and Dr. Grant, and of everything and al_ogether between Mr. Crawford and Mrs. Grant, as to leave her the faires_rospect of having only to listen in quiet, and of passing a very agreeabl_ay. She could not compliment the newly arrived gentleman, however, with an_ppearance of interest, in a scheme for extending his stay at Mansfield, an_ending for his hunters from Norfolk, which, suggested by Dr. Grant, advise_y Edmund, and warmly urged by the two sisters, was soon in possession of hi_ind, and which he seemed to want to be encouraged even by her to resolve on.
Her opinion was sought as to the probable continuance of the open weather, bu_er answers were as short and indifferent as civility allowed. She could no_ish him to stay, and would much rather not have him speak to her.
Her two absent cousins, especially Maria, were much in her thoughts on seein_im; but no embarrassing remembrance affected his spirits. Here he was agai_n the same ground where all had passed before, and apparently as willing t_tay and be happy without the Miss Bertrams, as if he had never know_ansfield in any other state. She heard them spoken of by him only in _eneral way, till they were all re-assembled in the drawing-room, when Edmund, being engaged apart in some matter of business with Dr. Grant, which seeme_ntirely to engross them, and Mrs. Grant occupied at the tea-table, he bega_alking of them with more particularity to his other sister. With _ignificant smile, which made Fanny quite hate him, he said, "So! Rushwort_nd his fair bride are at Brighton, I understand; happy man!"
"Yes, they have been there about a fortnight, Miss Price, have they not? An_ulia is with them."
"And Mr. Yates, I presume, is not far off."
"Mr. Yates! Oh! we hear nothing of Mr. Yates. I do not imagine he figures muc_n the letters to Mansfield Park; do you, Miss Price? I think my friend Juli_nows better than to entertain her father with Mr. Yates."
"Poor Rushworth and his two-and-forty speeches!" continued Crawford. "Nobod_an ever forget them. Poor fellow! I see him now—his toil and his despair.
Well, I am much mistaken if his lovely Maria will ever want him to make two- and-forty speeches to her"; adding, with a momentary seriousness, "She is to_ood for him— much too good." And then changing his tone again to one o_entle gallantry, and addressing Fanny, he said, "You were Mr. Rushworth'_est friend. Your kindness and patience can never be forgotten, you_ndefatigable patience in trying to make it possible for him to learn hi_art— in trying to give him a brain which nature had denied— to mix up a_nderstanding for him out of the superfluity of your own! He might not hav_ense enough himself to estimate your kindness, but I may venture to say tha_t had honour from all the rest of the party."
Fanny coloured, and said nothing.
"It is as a dream, a pleasant dream!" he exclaimed, breaking forth again, after a few minutes' musing. "I shall always look back on our theatricals wit_xquisite pleasure. There was such an interest, such an animation, such _pirit diffused. Everybody felt it. We were all alive. There was employment, hope, solicitude, bustle, for every hour of the day. Always some littl_bjection, some little doubt, some little anxiety to be got over. I never wa_appier."
With silent indignation Fanny repeated to herself, "Never happier!—neve_appier than when doing what you must know was not justifiable!—never happie_han when behaving so dishonourably and unfeelingly! Oh! what a corrupte_ind!"
"We were unlucky, Miss Price," he continued, in a lower tone, to avoid th_ossibility of being heard by Edmund, and not at all aware of her feelings,
"we certainly were very unlucky. Another week, only one other week, would hav_een enough for us. I think if we had had the disposal of events—if Mansfiel_ark had had the government of the winds just for a week or two, about th_quinox, there would have been a difference. Not that we would have endangere_is safety by any tremendous weather— but only by a steady contrary wind, or _alm. I think, Miss Price, we would have indulged ourselves with a week's cal_n the Atlantic at that season."
He seemed determined to be answered; and Fanny, averting her face, said, wit_ firmer tone than usual, "As far as I am concerned, sir, I would not hav_elayed his return for a day. My uncle disapproved it all so entirely when h_id arrive, that in my opinion everything had gone quite far enough."
She had never spoken so much at once to him in her life before, and never s_ngrily to any one; and when her speech was over, she trembled and blushed a_er own daring. He was surprised; but after a few moments' silen_onsideration of her, replied in a calmer, graver tone, and as if the candi_esult of conviction, "I believe you are right. It was more pleasant tha_rudent. We were getting too noisy." And then turning the conversation, h_ould have engaged her on some other subject, but her answers were so shy an_eluctant that he could not advance in any.
Miss Crawford, who had been repeatedly eyeing Dr. Grant and Edmund, no_bserved, "Those gentlemen must have some very interesting point to discuss."
"The most interesting in the world," replied her brother— "how to make money; how to turn a good income into a better. Dr. Grant is giving Bertra_nstructions about the living he is to step into so soon. I find he take_rders in a few weeks. They were at it in the dining-parlour. I am glad t_ear Bertram will be so well off. He will have a very pretty income to mak_ucks and drakes with, and earned without much trouble. I apprehend he wil_ot have less than seven hundred a year. Seven hundred a year is a fine thin_or a younger brother; and as of course he will still live at home, it will b_ll for his menus plaisirs; and a sermon at Christmas and Easter, I suppose, will be the sum total of sacrifice."
His sister tried to laugh off her feelings by saying, "Nothing amuses me mor_han the easy manner with which everybody settles the abundance of those wh_ave a great deal less than themselves. You would look rather blank, Henry, i_our menus plaisirs were to be limited to seven hundred a year."
"Perhaps I might; but all that you know is entirely comparative. Birthrigh_nd habit must settle the business. Bertram is certainly well off for a cade_f even a baronet's family. By the time he is four or five and twenty he wil_ave seven hundred a year, and nothing to do for it."
Miss Crawford could have said that there would be a something to do and t_uffer for it, which she could not think lightly of; but she checked hersel_nd let it pass; and tried to look calm and unconcerned when the two gentleme_hortly afterwards joined them.
"Bertram," said Henry Crawford, "I shall make a point of coming to Mansfiel_o hear you preach your first sermon. I shall come on purpose to encourage _oung beginner. When is it to be? Miss Price, will not you join me i_ncouraging your cousin? Will not you engage to attend with your eyes steadil_ixed on him the whole time— as I shall do—not to lose a word; or only lookin_ff just to note down any sentence preeminently beautiful? We will provid_urselves with tablets and a pencil. When will it be? You must preach a_ansfield, you know, that Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram may hear you."
"I shall keep clear of you, Crawford, as long as I can," said Edmund; "for yo_ould be more likely to disconcert me, and I should be more sorry to see yo_rying at it than almost any other man."
"Will he not feel this?" thought Fanny. "No, he can feel nothing as he ought."
The party being now all united, and the chief talkers attracting each other, she remained in tranquillity; and as a whist-table was formed after tea—forme_eally for the amusement of Dr. Grant, by his attentive wife, though it wa_ot to be supposed so—and Miss Crawford took her harp, she had nothing to d_ut to listen; and her tranquillity remained undisturbed the rest of th_vening, except when Mr. Crawford now and then addressed to her a question o_bservation, which she could not avoid answering. Miss Crawford was too muc_exed by what had passed to be in a humour for anything but music. With tha_he soothed herself and amused her friend.
The assurance of Edmund's being so soon to take orders, coming upon her like _low that had been suspended, and still hoped uncertain and at a distance, wa_elt with resentment and mortification. She was very angry with him. She ha_hought her influence more. She had begun to think of him; she felt that sh_ad, with great regard, with almost decided intentions; but she would now mee_im with his own cool feelings. It was plain that he could have no seriou_iews, no true attachment, by fixing himself in a situation which he must kno_he would never stoop to. She would learn to match him in his indifference.
She would henceforth admit his attentions without any idea beyond immediat_musement. If he could so command his affections, hers should do her no harm.