Her uncle and both her aunts were in the drawing-room when Fanny went down. T_he former she was an interesting object, and he saw with pleasure the genera_legance of her appearance, and her being in remarkably good looks. Th_eatness and propriety of her dress was all that he would allow himself t_ommend in her presence, but upon her leaving the room again soon afterwards,
he spoke of her beauty with very decided praise.
"Yes," said Lady Bertram, "she looks very well. I sent Chapman to her."
"Look well! Oh, yes!" cried Mrs. Norris, "she has good reason to look wel_ith all her advantages: brought up in this family as she has been, with al_he benefit of her cousins' manners before her. Only think, my dear Si_homas, what extraordinary advantages you and I have been the means of givin_er. The very gown you have been taking notice of is your own generous presen_o her when dear Mrs. Rushworth married. What would she have been if we ha_ot taken her by the hand?"
Sir Thomas said no more; but when they sat down to table the eyes of the tw_oung men assured him that the subject might be gently touched again, when th_adies withdrew, with more success. Fanny saw that she was approved; and th_onsciousness of looking well made her look still better. From a variety o_auses she was happy, and she was soon made still happier; for in followin_er aunts out of the room, Edmund, who was holding open the door, said, as sh_assed him, "You must dance with me, Fanny; you must keep two dances for me;
any two that you like, except the first." She had nothing more to wish for.
She had hardly ever been in a state so nearly approaching high spirits in he_ife. Her cousins' former gaiety on the day of a ball was no longer surprisin_o her; she felt it to be indeed very charming, and was actually practisin_er steps about the drawing-room as long as she could be safe from the notic_f her aunt Norris, who was entirely taken up at first in fresh arranging an_njuring the noble fire which the butler had prepared.
Half an hour followed that would have been at least languid under any othe_ircumstances, but Fanny's happiness still prevailed. It was but to think o_er conversation with Edmund, and what was the restlessness of Mrs. Norris?
What were the yawns of Lady Bertram?
The gentlemen joined them; and soon after began the sweet expectation of _arriage, when a general spirit of ease and enjoyment seemed diffused, an_hey all stood about and talked and laughed, and every moment had its pleasur_nd its hope. Fanny felt that there must be a struggle in Edmund'_heerfulness, but it was delightful to see the effort so successfully made.
When the carriages were really heard, when the guests began really t_ssemble, her own gaiety of heart was much subdued: the sight of so man_trangers threw her back into herself; and besides the gravity and formalit_f the first great circle, which the manners of neither Sir Thomas nor Lad_ertram were of a kind to do away, she found herself occasionally called on t_ndure something worse. She was introduced here and there by her uncle, an_orced to be spoken to, and to curtsey, and speak again. This was a hard duty,
and she was never summoned to it without looking at William, as he walke_bout at his ease in the background of the scene, and longing to be with him.
The entrance of the Grants and Crawfords was a favourable epoch. The stiffnes_f the meeting soon gave way before their popular manners and more diffuse_ntimacies: little groups were formed, and everybody grew comfortable. Fann_elt the advantage; and, drawing back from the toils of civility, would hav_een again most happy, could she have kept her eyes from wandering betwee_dmund and Mary Crawford. She looked all loveliness—and what might not be th_nd of it? Her own musings were brought to an end on perceiving Mr. Crawfor_efore her, and her thoughts were put into another channel by his engaging he_lmost instantly for the first two dances. Her happiness on this occasion wa_ery much a la mortal, finely chequered. To be secure of a partner at firs_as a most essential good— for the moment of beginning was now growin_eriously near; and she so little understood her own claims as to think tha_f Mr. Crawford had not asked her, she must have been the last to be sough_fter, and should have received a partner only through a series of inquiry,
and bustle, and interference, which would have been terrible; but at the sam_ime there was a pointedness in his manner of asking her which she did no_ike, and she saw his eye glancing for a moment at her necklace, with _mile—she thought there was a smile—which made her blush and feel wretched.
And though there was no second glance to disturb her, though his object seeme_hen to be only quietly agreeable, she could not get the better of he_mbarrassment, heightened as it was by the idea of his perceiving it, and ha_o composure till he turned away to some one else. Then she could graduall_ise up to the genuine satisfaction of having a partner, a voluntary partner,
secured against the dancing began.
When the company were moving into the ballroom, she found herself for th_irst time near Miss Crawford, whose eyes and smiles were immediately and mor_nequivocally directed as her brother's had been, and who was beginning t_peak on the subject, when Fanny, anxious to get the story over, hastened t_ive the explanation of the second necklace: the real chain. Miss Crawfor_istened; and all her intended compliments and insinuations to Fanny wer_orgotten: she felt only one thing; and her eyes, bright as they had bee_efore, shewing they could yet be brighter, she exclaimed with eager pleasure,
"Did he? Did Edmund? That was like himself. No other man would have thought o_t. I honour him beyond expression." And she looked around as if longing t_ell him so. He was not near, he was attending a party of ladies out of th_oom; and Mrs. Grant coming up to the two girls, and taking an arm of each,
they followed with the rest.
Fanny's heart sunk, but there was no leisure for thinking long even of Mis_rawford's feelings. They were in the ballroom, the violins were playing, an_er mind was in a flutter that forbade its fixing on anything serious. Sh_ust watch the general arrangements, and see how everything was done.
In a few minutes Sir Thomas came to her, and asked if she were engaged; an_he "Yes, sir; to Mr. Crawford," was exactly what he had intended to hear. Mr.
Crawford was not far off; Sir Thomas brought him to her, saying somethin_hich discovered to Fanny, that she was to lead the way and open the ball; a_dea that had never occurred to her before. Whenever she had thought of th_inutiae of the evening, it had been as a matter of course that Edmund woul_egin with Miss Crawford; and the impression was so strong, that though he_ncle spoke the contrary, she could not help an exclamation of surprise, _int of her unfitness, an entreaty even to be excused. To be urging he_pinion against Sir Thomas's was a proof of the extremity of the case; bu_uch was her horror at the first suggestion, that she could actually look hi_n the face and say that she hoped it might be settled otherwise; in vain,
however: Sir Thomas smiled, tried to encourage her, and then looked to_erious, and said too decidedly, "It must be so, my dear," for her to hazar_nother word; and she found herself the next moment conducted by Mr. Crawfor_o the top of the room, and standing there to be joined by the rest of th_ancers, couple after couple, as they were formed.
She could hardly believe it. To be placed above so many elegant young women!
The distinction was too great. It was treating her like her cousins! And he_houghts flew to those absent cousins with most unfeigned and truly tende_egret, that they were not at home to take their own place in the room, an_ave their share of a pleasure which would have been so very delightful t_hem. So often as she had heard them wish for a ball at home as the greates_f all felicities! And to have them away when it was given—and for her to b_pening the ball— and with Mr. Crawford too! She hoped they would not envy he_hat distinction now; but when she looked back to the state of things in th_utumn, to what they had all been to each other when once dancing in tha_ouse before, the present arrangement was almost more than she coul_nderstand herself.
The ball began. It was rather honour than happiness to Fanny, for the firs_ance at least: her partner was in excellent spirits, and tried to impart the_o her; but she was a great deal too much frightened to have any enjoymen_ill she could suppose herself no longer looked at. Young, pretty, and gentle,
however, she had no awkwardnesses that were not as good as graces, and ther_ere few persons present that were not disposed to praise her. She wa_ttractive, she was modest, she was Sir Thomas's niece, and she was soon sai_o be admired by Mr. Crawford. It was enough to give her general favour. Si_homas himself was watching her progress down the dance with much complacency;
he was proud of his niece; and without attributing all her personal beauty, a_rs. Norris seemed to do, to her transplantation to Mansfield, he was please_ith himself for having supplied everything else: education and manners sh_wed to him.
Miss Crawford saw much of Sir Thomas's thoughts as he stood, and having, i_pite of all his wrongs towards her, a general prevailing desire o_ecommending herself to him, took an opportunity of stepping aside to sa_omething agreeable of Fanny. Her praise was warm, and he received it as sh_ould wish, joining in it as far as discretion, and politeness, and slownes_f speech would allow, and certainly appearing to greater advantage on th_ubject than his lady did soon afterwards, when Mary, perceiving her on a sof_ery near, turned round before she began to dance, to compliment her on Mis_rice's looks.
"Yes, she does look very well," was Lady Bertram's placid reply. "Chapma_elped her to dress. I sent Chapman to her." Not but that she was reall_leased to have Fanny admired; but she was so much more struck with her ow_indness in sending Chapman to her, that she could not get it out of her head.
Miss Crawford knew Mrs. Norris too well to think of gratifying her b_ommendation of Fanny; to her, it was as the occasion offered—"Ah! ma'am, ho_uch we want dear Mrs. Rushworth and Julia to-night!" and Mrs. Norris paid he_ith as many smiles and courteous words as she had time for, amid so muc_ccupation as she found for herself in making up card-tables, giving hints t_ir Thomas, and trying to move all the chaperons to a better part of the room.
Miss Crawford blundered most towards Fanny herself in her intentions t_lease. She meant to be giving her little heart a happy flutter, and fillin_er with sensations of delightful self-consequence; and, misinterpretin_anny's blushes, still thought she must be doing so when she went to her afte_he two first dances, and said, with a significant look, "Perhaps you can tel_e why my brother goes to town to-morrow? He says he has business there, bu_ill not tell me what. The first time he ever denied me his confidence! Bu_his is what we all come to. All are supplanted sooner or later. Now, I mus_pply to you for information. Pray, what is Henry going for?"
Fanny protested her ignorance as steadily as her embarrassment allowed.
"Well, then," replied Miss Crawford, laughing, "I must suppose it to be purel_or the pleasure of conveying your brother, and of talking of you by the way."
Fanny was confused, but it was the confusion of discontent; while Mis_rawford wondered she did not smile, and thought her over-anxious, or though_er odd, or thought her anything rather than insensible of pleasure in Henry'_ttentions. Fanny had a good deal of enjoyment in the course of the evening;
but Henry's attentions had very little to do with it. She would much rathe_ot have been asked by him again so very soon, and she wished she had not bee_bliged to suspect that his previous inquiries of Mrs. Norris, about th_upper hour, were all for the sake of securing her at that part of th_vening. But it was not to be avoided: he made her feel that she was th_bject of all; though she could not say that it was unpleasantly done, tha_here was indelicacy or ostentation in his manner; and sometimes, when h_alked of William, he was really not unagreeable, and shewed even a warmth o_eart which did him credit. But still his attentions made no part of he_atisfaction. She was happy whenever she looked at William, and saw ho_erfectly he was enjoying himself, in every five minutes that she could wal_bout with him and hear his account of his partners; she was happy in knowin_erself admired; and she was happy in having the two dances with Edmund stil_o look forward to, during the greatest part of the evening, her hand being s_agerly sought after that her indefinite engagement with him was in continua_erspective. She was happy even when they did take place; but not from an_low of spirits on his side, or any such expressions of tender gallantry a_ad blessed the morning. His mind was fagged, and her happiness sprung fro_eing the friend with whom it could find repose. "I am worn out wit_ivility," said he. "I have been talking incessantly all night, and wit_othing to say. But with you, Fanny, there may be peace. You will not want t_e talked to. Let us have the luxury of silence." Fanny would hardly eve_peak her agreement. A weariness, arising probably, in great measure, from th_ame feelings which he had acknowledged in the morning, was peculiarly to b_espected, and they went down their two dances together with such sobe_ranquillity as might satisfy any looker-on that Sir Thomas had been bringin_p no wife for his younger son.
The evening had afforded Edmund little pleasure. Miss Crawford had been in ga_pirits when they first danced together, but it was not her gaiety that coul_o him good: it rather sank than raised his comfort; and afterwards, for h_ound himself still impelled to seek her again, she had absolutely pained hi_y her manner of speaking of the profession to which he was now on the poin_f belonging. They had talked, and they had been silent; he had reasoned, sh_ad ridiculed; and they had parted at last with mutual vexation. Fanny, no_ble to refrain entirely from observing them, had seen enough to be tolerabl_atisfied. It was barbarous to be happy when Edmund was suffering. Yet som_appiness must and would arise from the very conviction that he did suffer.
When her two dances with him were over, her inclination and strength for mor_ere pretty well at an end; and Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather tha_ance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gav_is orders for her sitting down entirely. From that time Mr. Crawford sat dow_ikewise.
"Poor Fanny!" cried William, coming for a moment to visit her, and workin_way his partner's fan as if for life, "how soon she is knocked up! Why, th_port is but just begun. I hope we shall keep it up these two hours. How ca_ou be tired so soon?"
"So soon! my good friend," said Sir Thomas, producing his watch with al_ecessary caution; "it is three o'clock, and your sister is not used to thes_ort of hours."
"Well, then, Fanny, you shall not get up to-morrow before I go. Sleep as lon_s you can, and never mind me."
"What! Did she think of being up before you set off?"
"Oh! yes, sir," cried Fanny, rising eagerly from her seat to be nearer he_ncle; "I must get up and breakfast with him. It will be the last time, yo_now; the last morning."
"You had better not. He is to have breakfasted and be gone by half-past nine.
Mr. Crawford, I think you call for him at half-past nine?"
Fanny was too urgent, however, and had too many tears in her eyes for denial;
and it ended in a gracious "Well, well!" which was permission.
"Yes, half-past nine," said Crawford to William as the latter was leavin_hem, "and I shall be punctual, for there will be no kind sister to get up fo_e." And in a lower tone to Fanny, "I shall have only a desolate house t_urry from. Your brother will find my ideas of time and his own very differen_o-morrow."
After a short consideration, Sir Thomas asked Crawford to join the earl_reakfast party in that house instead of eating alone: he should himself be o_t; and the readiness with which his invitation was accepted convinced hi_hat the suspicions whence, he must confess to himself, this very ball had i_reat measure sprung, were well founded. Mr. Crawford was in love with Fanny.
He had a pleasing anticipation of what would be. His niece, meanwhile, did no_hank him for what he had just done. She had hoped to have William all t_erself the last morning. It would have been an unspeakable indulgence. Bu_hough her wishes were overthrown, there was no spirit of murmuring withi_er. On the contrary, she was so totally unused to have her pleasur_onsulted, or to have anything take place at all in the way she could desire,
that she was more disposed to wonder and rejoice in having carried her poin_o far, than to repine at the counteraction which followed.
Shortly afterward, Sir Thomas was again interfering a little with he_nclination, by advising her to go immediately to bed. "Advise" was his word,
but it was the advice of absolute power, and she had only to rise, and, wit_r. Crawford's very cordial adieus, pass quietly away; stopping at th_ntrance-door, like the Lady of Branxholm Hall, "one moment and no more," t_iew the happy scene, and take a last look at the five or six determine_ouple who were still hard at work; and then, creeping slowly up the principa_taircase, pursued by the ceaseless country-dance, feverish with hopes an_ears, soup and negus, sore-footed and fatigued, restless and agitated, ye_eeling, in spite of everything, that a ball was indeed delightful.
In thus sending her away, Sir Thomas perhaps might not be thinking merely o_er health. It might occur to him that Mr. Crawford had been sitting by he_ong enough, or he might mean to recommend her as a wife by shewing he_ersuadableness.