The intercourse of the two families was at this period more nearly restored t_hat it had been in the autumn, than any member of the old intimacy ha_hought ever likely to be again. The return of Henry Crawford, and the arriva_f William Price, had much to do with it, but much was still owing to Si_homas's more than toleration of the neighbourly attempts at the Parsonage.
His mind, now disengaged from the cares which had pressed on him at first, wa_t leisure to find the Grants and their young inmates really worth visiting; and though infinitely above scheming or contriving for any the mos_dvantageous matrimonial establishment that could be among the apparen_ossibilities of any one most dear to him, and disdaining even as a littlenes_he being quick-sighted on such points, he could not avoid perceiving, in _rand and careless way, that Mr. Crawford was somewhat distinguishing hi_iece— nor perhaps refrain (though unconsciously) from giving a more willin_ssent to invitations on that account.
His readiness, however, in agreeing to dine at the Parsonage, when the genera_nvitation was at last hazarded, after many debates and many doubts as t_hether it were worth while, "because Sir Thomas seemed so ill inclined, an_ady Bertram was so indolent!" proceeded from good-breeding and goodwil_lone, and had nothing to do with Mr. Crawford, but as being one in a_greeable group: for it was in the course of that very visit that he firs_egan to think that any one in the habit of such idle observations would hav_hought that Mr. Crawford was the admirer of Fanny Price.
The meeting was generally felt to be a pleasant one, being composed in a goo_roportion of those who would talk and those who would listen; and the dinne_tself was elegant and plentiful, according to the usual style of the Grants, and too much according to the usual habits of all to raise any emotion excep_n Mrs. Norris, who could never behold either the wide table or the number o_ishes on it with patience, and who did always contrive to experience som_vil from the passing of the servants behind her chair, and to bring away som_resh conviction of its being impossible among so many dishes but that som_ust be cold.
In the evening it was found, according to the predetermination of Mrs. Gran_nd her sister, that after making up the whist-table there would remai_ufficient for a round game, and everybody being as perfectly complying an_ithout a choice as on such occasions they always are, speculation was decide_n almost as soon as whist; and Lady Bertram soon found herself in th_ritical situation of being applied to for her own choice between the games, and being required either to draw a card for whist or not. She hesitated.
Luckily Sir Thomas was at hand.
"What shall I do, Sir Thomas? Whist and speculation; which will amuse m_ost?"
Sir Thomas, after a moment's thought, recommended speculation. He was a whis_layer himself, and perhaps might feel that it would not much amuse him t_ave her for a partner.
"Very well," was her ladyship's contented answer; "then speculation, if yo_lease, Mrs. Grant. I know nothing about it, but Fanny must teach me."
Here Fanny interposed, however, with anxious protestations of her own equa_gnorance; she had never played the game nor seen it played in her life; an_ady Bertram felt a moment's indecision again; but upon everybody's assurin_er that nothing could be so easy, that it was the easiest game on the cards, and Henry Crawford's stepping forward with a most earnest request to b_llowed to sit between her ladyship and Miss Price, and teach them both, i_as so settled; and Sir Thomas, Mrs. Norris, and Dr. and Mrs. Grant bein_eated at the table of prime intellectual state and dignity, the remainin_ix, under Miss Crawford's direction, were arranged round the other. It was _ine arrangement for Henry Crawford, who was close to Fanny, and with hi_ands full of business, having two persons' cards to manage as well as hi_wn; for though it was impossible for Fanny not to feel herself mistress o_he rules of the game in three minutes, he had yet to inspirit her play, sharpen her avarice, and harden her heart, which, especially in an_ompetition with William, was a work of some difficulty; and as for Lad_ertram, he must continue in charge of all her fame and fortune through th_hole evening; and if quick enough to keep her from looking at her cards whe_he deal began, must direct her in whatever was to be done with them to th_nd of it.
He was in high spirits, doing everything with happy ease, and preeminent i_ll the lively turns, quick resources, and playful impudence that could d_onour to the game; and the round table was altogether a very comfortabl_ontrast to the steady sobriety and orderly silence of the other.
Twice had Sir Thomas inquired into the enjoyment and success of his lady, bu_n vain; no pause was long enough for the time his measured manner needed; an_ery little of her state could be known till Mrs. Grant was able, at the en_f the first rubber, to go to her and pay her compliments.
"I hope your ladyship is pleased with the game."
"Oh dear, yes! very entertaining indeed. A very odd game. I do not know wha_t is all about. I am never to see my cards; and Mr. Crawford does all th_est."
"Bertram," said Crawford, some time afterwards, taking the opportunity of _ittle languor in the game, "I have never told you what happened to m_esterday in my ride home." They had been hunting together, and were in th_idst of a good run, and at some distance from Mansfield, when his horse bein_ound to have flung a shoe, Henry Crawford had been obliged to give up, an_ake the best of his way back. "I told you I lost my way after passing tha_ld farmhouse with the yew-trees, because I can never bear to ask; but I hav_ot told you that, with my usual luck—for I never do wrong without gaining b_t—I found myself in due time in the very place which I had a curiosity t_ee. I was suddenly, upon turning the corner of a steepish downy field, in th_idst of a retired little village between gently rising hills; a small strea_efore me to be forded, a church standing on a sort of knoll to my right— which church was strikingly large and handsome for the place, and not _entleman or half a gentleman's house to be seen excepting one—to be presume_he Parsonage— within a stone's throw of the said knoll and church. I foun_yself, in short, in Thornton Lacey."
"It sounds like it," said Edmund; "but which way did you turn after passin_ewell's farm?"
"I answer no such irrelevant and insidious questions; though were I to answe_ll that you could put in the course of an hour, you would never be able t_rove that it was not Thornton Lacey—for such it certainly was."
"You inquired, then?"
"No, I never inquire. But I told a man mending a hedge that it was Thornto_acey, and he agreed to it."
"You have a good memory. I had forgotten having ever told you half so much o_he place."
Thornton Lacey was the name of his impending living, as Miss Crawford wel_new; and her interest in a negotiation for William Price's knave increased.
"Well," continued Edmund, "and how did you like what you saw?"
"Very much indeed. You are a lucky fellow. There will be work for five summer_t least before the place is liveable."
"No, no, not so bad as that. The farmyard must be moved, I grant you; but I a_ot aware of anything else. The house is by no means bad, and when the yard i_emoved, there may be a very tolerable approach to it."
"The farmyard must be cleared away entirely, and planted up to shut out th_lacksmith's shop. The house must be turned to front the east instead of th_orth— the entrance and principal rooms, I mean, must be on that side, wher_he view is really very pretty; I am sure it may be done. And there must b_our approach, through what is at present the garden. You must make a ne_arden at what is now the back of the house; which will be giving it the bes_spect in the world, sloping to the south-east. The ground seems precisel_ormed for it. I rode fifty yards up the lane, between the church and th_ouse, in order to look about me; and saw how it might all be. Nothing can b_asier. The meadows beyond what will be the garden, as well as what now is, sweeping round from the lane I stood in to the north-east, that is, to th_rincipal road through the village, must be all laid together, of course; ver_retty meadows they are, finely sprinkled with timber. They belong to th_iving, I suppose; if not, you must purchase them. Then the stream—somethin_ust be done with the stream; but I could not quite determine what. I had tw_r three ideas."
"And I have two or three ideas also," said Edmund, "and one of them is, tha_ery little of your plan for Thornton Lacey will ever be put in practice. _ust be satisfied with rather less ornament and beauty. I think the house an_remises may be made comfortable, and given the air of a gentleman'_esidence, without any very heavy expense, and that must suffice me; and, _ope, may suffice all who care about me."
Miss Crawford, a little suspicious and resentful of a certain tone of voice, and a certain half-look attending the last expression of his hope, made _asty finish of her dealings with William Price; and securing his knave at a_xorbitant rate, exclaimed, "There, I will stake my last like a woman o_pirit. No cold prudence for me. I am not born to sit still and do nothing. I_ lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it."
The game was hers, and only did not pay her for what she had given to secur_t. Another deal proceeded, and Crawford began again about Thornton Lacey.
"My plan may not be the best possible: I had not many minutes to form it in; but you must do a good deal. The place deserves it, and you will find yoursel_ot satisfied with much less than it is capable of. (Excuse me, your ladyshi_ust not see your cards. There, let them lie just before you.) The plac_eserves it, Bertram. You talk of giving it the air of a gentleman'_esidence. That will be done by the removal of the farmyard; for, independen_f that terrible nuisance, I never saw a house of the kind which had in itsel_o much the air of a gentleman's residence, so much the look of a somethin_bove a mere parsonage-house—above the expenditure of a few hundreds a year.
It is not a scrambling collection of low single rooms, with as many roofs a_indows; it is not cramped into the vulgar compactness of a square farmhouse: it is a solid, roomy, mansion-like looking house, such as one might suppose _espectable old country family had lived in from generation to generation, through two centuries at least, and were now spending from two to thre_housand a year in." Miss Crawford listened, and Edmund agreed to this. "Th_ir of a gentleman's residence, therefore, you cannot but give it, if you d_nything. But it is capable of much more. (Let me see, Mary; Lady Bertram bid_ dozen for that queen; no, no, a dozen is more than it is worth. Lady Bertra_oes not bid a dozen. She will have nothing to say to it. Go on, go on.) B_ome such improvements as I have suggested (I do not really require you t_roceed upon my plan, though, by the bye, I doubt anybody's striking out _etter) you may give it a higher character. You may raise it into a place.
From being the mere gentleman's residence, it becomes, by judiciou_mprovement, the residence of a man of education, taste, modern manners, goo_onnexions. All this may be stamped on it; and that house receive such an ai_s to make its owner be set down as the great landholder of the parish b_very creature travelling the road; especially as there is no real squire'_ouse to dispute the point—a circumstance, between ourselves, to enhance th_alue of such a situation in point of privilege and independence beyond al_alculation. You think with me, I hope" (turning with a softened voice t_anny). "Have you ever seen the place?"
Fanny gave a quick negative, and tried to hide her interest in the subject b_n eager attention to her brother, who was driving as hard a bargain, an_mposing on her as much as he could; but Crawford pursued with "No, no, yo_ust not part with the queen. You have bought her too dearly, and your brothe_oes not offer half her value. No, no, sir, hands off, hands off. Your siste_oes not part with the queen. She is quite determined. The game will b_ours," turning to her again; "it will certainly be yours."
"And Fanny had much rather it were William's," said Edmund, smiling at her.
"Poor Fanny! not allowed to cheat herself as she wishes!"
"Mr. Bertram," said Miss Crawford, a few minutes afterwards, "you know Henr_o be such a capital improver, that you cannot possibly engage in anything o_he sort at Thornton Lacey without accepting his help. Only think how usefu_e was at Sotherton! Only think what grand things were produced there by ou_ll going with him one hot day in August to drive about the grounds, and se_is genius take fire. There we went, and there we came home again; and wha_as done there is not to be told!"
Fanny's eyes were turned on Crawford for a moment with an expression more tha_rave—even reproachful; but on catching his, were instantly withdrawn. Wit_omething of consciousness he shook his head at his sister, and laughingl_eplied, "I cannot say there was much done at Sotherton; but it was a hot day, and we were all walking after each other, and bewildered." As soon as _eneral buzz gave him shelter, he added, in a low voice, directed solely a_anny, "I should be sorry to have my powers of planning judged of by the da_t Sotherton. I see things very differently now. Do not think of me as _ppeared then."
Sotherton was a word to catch Mrs. Norris, and being just then in the happ_eisure which followed securing the odd trick by Sir Thomas's capital play an_er own against Dr. and Mrs. Grant's great hands, she called out, in hig_ood-humour, "Sotherton! Yes, that is a place, indeed, and we had a charmin_ay there. William, you are quite out of luck; but the next time you come, _ope dear Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth will be at home, and I am sure I can answe_or your being kindly received by both. Your cousins are not of a sort t_orget their relations, and Mr. Rushworth is a most amiable man. They are a_righton now, you know; in one of the best houses there, as Mr. Rushworth'_ine fortune gives them a right to be. I do not exactly know the distance, bu_hen you get back to Portsmouth, if it is not very far off, you ought to g_ver and pay your respects to them; and I could send a little parcel by yo_hat I want to get conveyed to your cousins."
"I should be very happy, aunt; but Brighton is almost by Beachey Head; and i_ could get so far, I could not expect to be welcome in such a smart place a_hat— poor scrubby midshipman as I am."
Mrs. Norris was beginning an eager assurance of the affability he might depen_n, when she was stopped by Sir Thomas's saying with authority, "I do no_dvise your going to Brighton, William, as I trust you may soon have mor_onvenient opportunities of meeting; but my daughters would be happy to se_heir cousins anywhere; and you will find Mr. Rushworth most sincerel_isposed to regard all the connexions of our family as his own."
"I would rather find him private secretary to the First Lord than anythin_lse," was William's only answer, in an undervoice, not meant to reach far, and the subject dropped.
As yet Sir Thomas had seen nothing to remark in Mr. Crawford's behaviour; bu_hen the whist-table broke up at the end of the second rubber, and leaving Dr.
Grant and Mrs. Norris to dispute over their last play, he became a looker-o_t the other, he found his niece the object of attentions, or rather o_rofessions, of a somewhat pointed character.
Henry Crawford was in the first glow of another scheme about Thornton Lacey; and not being able to catch Edmund's ear, was detailing it to his fai_eighbour with a look of considerable earnestness. His scheme was to rent th_ouse himself the following winter, that he might have a home of his own i_hat neighbourhood; and it was not merely for the use of it in the hunting- season (as he was then telling her), though that consideration had certainl_ome weight, feeling as he did that, in spite of all Dr. Grant's very grea_indness, it was impossible for him and his horses to be accommodated wher_hey now were without material inconvenience; but his attachment to tha_eighbourhood did not depend upon one amusement or one season of the year: h_ad set his heart upon having a something there that he could come to at an_ime, a little homestall at his command, where all the holidays of his yea_ight be spent, and he might find himself continuing, improving, an_erfecting that friendship and intimacy with the Mansfield Park family whic_as increasing in value to him every day. Sir Thomas heard and was no_ffended. There was no want of respect in the young man's address; and Fanny'_eception of it was so proper and modest, so calm and uninviting, that he ha_othing to censure in her. She said little, assented only here and there, an_etrayed no inclination either of appropriating any part of the compliment t_erself, or of strengthening his views in favour of Northamptonshire. Findin_y whom he was observed, Henry Crawford addressed himself on the same subjec_o Sir Thomas, in a more everyday tone, but still with feeling.
"I want to be your neighbour, Sir Thomas, as you have, perhaps, heard m_elling Miss Price. May I hope for your acquiescence, and for your no_nfluencing your son against such a tenant?"
Sir Thomas, politely bowing, replied, "It is the only way, sir, in which _ould not wish you established as a permanent neighbour; but I hope, an_elieve, that Edmund will occupy his own house at Thornton Lacey. Edmund, am _aying too much?"
Edmund, on this appeal, had first to hear what was going on; but, o_nderstanding the question, was at no loss for an answer.
"Certainly, sir, I have no idea but of residence. But, Crawford, though _efuse you as a tenant, come to me as a friend. Consider the house as hal_our own every winter, and we will add to the stables on your own improve_lan, and with all the improvements of your improved plan that may occur t_ou this spring."
"We shall be the losers," continued Sir Thomas. "His going, though only eigh_iles, will be an unwelcome contraction of our family circle; but I shoul_ave been deeply mortified if any son of mine could reconcile himself to doin_ess. It is perfectly natural that you should not have thought much on th_ubject, Mr. Crawford. But a parish has wants and claims which can be know_nly by a clergyman constantly resident, and which no proxy can be capable o_atisfying to the same extent. Edmund might, in the common phrase, do the dut_f Thornton, that is, he might read prayers and preach, without giving u_ansfield Park: he might ride over every Sunday, to a house nominall_nhabited, and go through divine service; he might be the clergyman o_hornton Lacey every seventh day, for three or four hours, if that woul_ontent him. But it will not. He knows that human nature needs more lesson_han a weekly sermon can convey; and that if he does not live among hi_arishioners, and prove himself, by constant attention, their well-wisher an_riend, he does very little either for their good or his own."
Mr. Crawford bowed his acquiescence.
"I repeat again," added Sir Thomas, "that Thornton Lacey is the only house i_he neighbourhood in which I should not be happy to wait on Mr. Crawford a_ccupier."
Mr. Crawford bowed his thanks.
"Sir Thomas," said Edmund, "undoubtedly understands the duty of a paris_riest. We must hope his son may prove that he knows it too."
Whatever effect Sir Thomas's little harangue might really produce on Mr.
Crawford, it raised some awkward sensations in two of the others, two of hi_ost attentive listeners— Miss Crawford and Fanny. One of whom, having neve_efore understood that Thornton was so soon and so completely to be his home, was pondering with downcast eyes on what it would be not to see Edmund ever_ay; and the other, startled from the agreeable fancies she had bee_reviously indulging on the strength of her brother's description, no longe_ble, in the picture she had been forming of a future Thornton, to shut ou_he church, sink the clergyman, and see only the respectable, elegant, modernised, and occasional residence of a man of independent fortune, wa_onsidering Sir Thomas, with decided ill-will, as the destroyer of all this, and suffering the more from that involuntary forbearance which his characte_nd manner commanded, and from not daring to relieve herself by a singl_ttempt at throwing ridicule on his cause.
All the agreeable of her speculation was over for that hour. It was time t_ave done with cards, if sermons prevailed; and she was glad to find i_ecessary to come to a conclusion, and be able to refresh her spirits by _hange of place and neighbour.
The chief of the party were now collected irregularly round the fire, an_aiting the final break-up. William and Fanny were the most detached. The_emained together at the otherwise deserted card-table, talking ver_omfortably, and not thinking of the rest, till some of the rest began t_hink of them. Henry Crawford's chair was the first to be given a directio_owards them, and he sat silently observing them for a few minutes; himself, in the meanwhile, observed by Sir Thomas, who was standing in chat with Dr.
"This is the assembly night," said William. "If I were at Portsmouth I shoul_e at it, perhaps."
"But you do not wish yourself at Portsmouth, William?"
"No, Fanny, that I do not. I shall have enough of Portsmouth and of dancin_oo, when I cannot have you. And I do not know that there would be any good i_oing to the assembly, for I might not get a partner. The Portsmouth girl_urn up their noses at anybody who has not a commission. One might as well b_othing as a midshipman. One is nothing, indeed. You remember the Gregorys; they are grown up amazing fine girls, but they will hardly speak to me, because Lucy is courted by a lieutenant."
"Oh! shame, shame! But never mind it, William" (her own cheeks in a glow o_ndignation as she spoke). "It is not worth minding. It is no reflection o_ou; it is no more than what the greatest admirals have all experienced, mor_r less, in their time. You must think of that, you must try to make up you_ind to it as one of the hardships which fall to every sailor's share, lik_ad weather and hard living, only with this advantage, that there will be a_nd to it, that there will come a time when you will have nothing of that sor_o endure. When you are a lieutenant! only think, William, when you are _ieutenant, how little you will care for any nonsense of this kind."
"I begin to think I shall never be a lieutenant, Fanny. Everybody gets mad_ut me."
"Oh! my dear William, do not talk so; do not be so desponding. My uncle say_othing, but I am sure he will do everything in his power to get you made. H_nows, as well as you do, of what consequence it is."
She was checked by the sight of her uncle much nearer to them than she had an_uspicion of, and each found it necessary to talk of something else.
"Are you fond of dancing, Fanny?"
"Yes, very; only I am soon tired."
"I should like to go to a ball with you and see you dance. Have you never an_alls at Northampton? I should like to see you dance, and I'd dance with yo_f you would, for nobody would know who I was here, and I should like to b_our partner once more. We used to jump about together many a time, did no_e? when the hand-organ was in the street? I am a pretty good dancer in m_ay, but I dare say you are a better." And turning to his uncle, who was no_lose to them, "Is not Fanny a very good dancer, sir?"
Fanny, in dismay at such an unprecedented question, did not know which way t_ook, or how to be prepared for the answer. Some very grave reproof, or a_east the coldest expression of indifference, must be coming to distress he_rother, and sink her to the ground. But, on the contrary, it was no wors_han, "I am sorry to say that I am unable to answer your question. I hav_ever seen Fanny dance since she was a little girl; but I trust we shall bot_hink she acquits herself like a gentlewoman when we do see her, which, perhaps, we may have an opportunity of doing ere long."
"I have had the pleasure of seeing your sister dance, Mr. Price," said Henr_rawford, leaning forward, "and will engage to answer every inquiry which yo_an make on the subject, to your entire satisfaction. But I believe" (seein_anny looked distressed) "it must be at some other time. There is one perso_n company who does not like to have Miss Price spoken of."
True enough, he had once seen Fanny dance; and it was equally true that h_ould now have answered for her gliding about with quiet, light elegance, an_n admirable time; but, in fact, he could not for the life of him recall wha_er dancing had been, and rather took it for granted that she had been presen_han remembered anything about her.
He passed, however, for an admirer of her dancing; and Sir Thomas, by no mean_ispleased, prolonged the conversation on dancing in general, and was so wel_ngaged in describing the balls of Antigua, and listening to what his nephe_ould relate of the different modes of dancing which had fallen within hi_bservation, that he had not heard his carriage announced, and was firs_alled to the knowledge of it by the bustle of Mrs. Norris.
"Come, Fanny, Fanny, what are you about? We are going. Do not you see you_unt is going? Quick, quick! I cannot bear to keep good old Wilcox waiting.
You should always remember the coachman and horses. My dear Sir Thomas, w_ave settled it that the carriage should come back for you, and Edmund an_illiam."
Sir Thomas could not dissent, as it had been his own arrangement, previousl_ommunicated to his wife and sister; but that seemed forgotten by Mrs. Norris, who must fancy that she settled it all herself.
Fanny's last feeling in the visit was disappointment: for the shawl whic_dmund was quietly taking from the servant to bring and put round he_houlders was seized by Mr. Crawford's quicker hand, and she was obliged to b_ndebted to his more prominent attention.