Edmund had great things to hear on his return. Many surprises were awaitin_im. The first that occurred was not least in interest: the appearance o_enry Crawford and his sister walking together through the village as he rod_nto it. He had concluded—he had meant them to be far distant. His absence ha_een extended beyond a fortnight purposely to avoid Miss Crawford. He wa_eturning to Mansfield with spirits ready to feed on melancholy remembrances, and tender associations, when her own fair self was before him, leaning on he_rother's arm, and he found himself receiving a welcome, unquestionabl_riendly, from the woman whom, two moments before, he had been thinking of a_eventy miles off, and as farther, much farther, from him in inclination tha_ny distance could express.
Her reception of him was of a sort which he could not have hoped for, had h_xpected to see her. Coming as he did from such a purport fulfilled as ha_aken him away, he would have expected anything rather than a look o_atisfaction, and words of simple, pleasant meaning. It was enough to set hi_eart in a glow, and to bring him home in the properest state for feeling th_ull value of the other joyful surprises at hand.
William's promotion, with all its particulars, he was soon master of; and wit_uch a secret provision of comfort within his own breast to help the joy, h_ound in it a source of most gratifying sensation and unvarying cheerfulnes_ll dinner-time.
After dinner, when he and his father were alone, he had Fanny's history; an_hen all the great events of the last fortnight, and the present situation o_atters at Mansfield were known to him.
Fanny suspected what was going on. They sat so much longer than usual in th_ining-parlour, that she was sure they must be talking of her; and when tea a_ast brought them away, and she was to be seen by Edmund again, she fel_readfully guilty. He came to her, sat down by her, took her hand, and presse_t kindly; and at that moment she thought that, but for the occupation and th_cene which the tea-things afforded, she must have betrayed her emotion i_ome unpardonable excess.
He was not intending, however, by such action, to be conveying to her tha_nqualified approbation and encouragement which her hopes drew from it. It wa_esigned only to express his participation in all that interested her, and t_ell her that he had been hearing what quickened every feeling of affection.
He was, in fact, entirely on his father's side of the question. His surpris_as not so great as his father's at her refusing Crawford, because, so fa_rom supposing her to consider him with anything like a preference, he ha_lways believed it to be rather the reverse, and could imagine her to be take_erfectly unprepared, but Sir Thomas could not regard the connexion as mor_esirable than he did. It had every recommendation to him; and while honourin_er for what she had done under the influence of her present indifference, honouring her in rather stronger terms than Sir Thomas could quite echo, h_as most earnest in hoping, and sanguine in believing, that it would be _atch at last, and that, united by mutual affection, it would appear tha_heir dispositions were as exactly fitted to make them blessed in each other, as he was now beginning seriously to consider them. Crawford had been to_recipitate. He had not given her time to attach herself. He had begun at th_rong end. With such powers as his, however, and such a disposition as hers, Edmund trusted that everything would work out a happy conclusion. Meanwhile, he saw enough of Fanny's embarrassment to make him scrupulously guard agains_xciting it a second time, by any word, or look, or movement.
Crawford called the next day, and on the score of Edmund's return, Sir Thoma_elt himself more than licensed to ask him to stay dinner; it was really _ecessary compliment. He staid of course, and Edmund had then ampl_pportunity for observing how he sped with Fanny, and what degree of immediat_ncouragement for him might be extracted from her manners; and it was s_ittle, so very, very little— every chance, every possibility of it, restin_pon her embarrassment only; if there was not hope in her confusion, there wa_ope in nothing else—that he was almost ready to wonder at his friend'_erseverance. Fanny was worth it all; he held her to be worth every effort o_atience, every exertion of mind, but he did not think he could have gone o_imself with any woman breathing, without something more to warm his courag_han his eyes could discern in hers. He was very willing to hope that Crawfor_aw clearer, and this was the most comfortable conclusion for his friend tha_e could come to from all that he observed to pass before, and at, and afte_inner.
In the evening a few circumstances occurred which he thought more promising.
When he and Crawford walked into the drawing-room, his mother and Fanny wer_itting as intently and silently at work as if there were nothing else to car_or. Edmund could not help noticing their apparently deep tranquillity.
"We have not been so silent all the time," replied his mother. "Fanny has bee_eading to me, and only put the book down upon hearing you coming." And sur_nough there was a book on the table which had the air of being very recentl_losed: a volume of Shakespeare. "She often reads to me out of those books; and she was in the middle of a very fine speech of that man's— what's hi_ame, Fanny?—when we heard your footsteps."
Crawford took the volume. "Let me have the pleasure of finishing that speec_o your ladyship," said he. "I shall find it immediately." And by carefull_iving way to the inclination of the leaves, he did find it, or within a pag_r two, quite near enough to satisfy Lady Bertram, who assured him, as soon a_e mentioned the name of Cardinal Wolsey, that he had got the very speech. No_ look or an offer of help had Fanny given; not a syllable for or against. Al_er attention was for her work. She seemed determined to be interested b_othing else. But taste was too strong in her. She could not abstract her min_ive minutes: she was forced to listen; his reading was capital, and he_leasure in good reading extreme. To good reading, however, she had been lon_sed: her uncle read well, her cousins all, Edmund very well, but in Mr.
Crawford's reading there was a variety of excellence beyond what she had eve_et with. The King, the Queen, Buckingham, Wolsey, Cromwell, all were given i_urn; for with the happiest knack, the happiest power of jumping and guessing, he could always alight at will on the best scene, or the best speeches o_ach; and whether it were dignity, or pride, or tenderness, or remorse, o_hatever were to be expressed, he could do it with equal beauty. It was trul_ramatic. His acting had first taught Fanny what pleasure a play might give, and his reading brought all his acting before her again; nay, perhaps wit_reater enjoyment, for it came unexpectedly, and with no such drawback as sh_ad been used to suffer in seeing him on the stage with Miss Bertram.
Edmund watched the progress of her attention, and was amused and gratified b_eeing how she gradually slackened in the needlework, which at the beginnin_eemed to occupy her totally: how it fell from her hand while she sa_otionless over it, and at last, how the eyes which had appeared so studiousl_o avoid him throughout the day were turned and fixed on Crawford—fixed on hi_or minutes, fixed on him, in short, till the attraction drew Crawford's upo_er, and the book was closed, and the charm was broken. Then she was shrinkin_gain into herself, and blushing and working as hard as ever; but it had bee_nough to give Edmund encouragement for his friend, and as he cordiall_hanked him, he hoped to be expressing Fanny's secret feelings too.
"That play must be a favourite with you," said he; "you read as if you knew i_ell."
"It will be a favourite, I believe, from this hour," replied Crawford; "but _o not think I have had a volume of Shakespeare in my hand before since I wa_ifteen. I once saw Henry the Eighth acted, or I have heard of it fro_omebody who did, I am not certain which. But Shakespeare one gets acquainte_ith without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman's constitution. Hi_houghts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a goo_art of one of his plays without falling into the flow of his meanin_mmediately."
"No doubt one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree," said Edmund, "fro_ne's earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by everybody; the_re in half the books we open, and we all talk Shakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions; but this is totally distinct from givin_is sense as you gave it. To know him in bits and scraps is common enough; t_now him pretty thoroughly is, perhaps, not uncommon; but to read him wel_loud is no everyday talent."
"Sir, you do me honour," was Crawford's answer, with a bow of mock gravity.
Both gentlemen had a glance at Fanny, to see if a word of accordant prais_ould be extorted from her; yet both feeling that it could not be. Her prais_ad been given in her attention; that must content them.
Lady Bertram's admiration was expressed, and strongly too. "It was really lik_eing at a play," said she. "I wish Sir Thomas had been here."
Crawford was excessively pleased. If Lady Bertram, with all her incompetenc_nd languor, could feel this, the inference of what her niece, alive an_nlightened as she was, must feel, was elevating.
"You have a great turn for acting, I am sure, Mr. Crawford," said her ladyshi_oon afterwards; "and I will tell you what, I think you will have a theatre, some time or other, at your house in Norfolk. I mean when you are settle_here. I do indeed. I think you will fit up a theatre at your house i_orfolk."
"Do you, ma'am?" cried he, with quickness. "No, no, that will never be. You_adyship is quite mistaken. No theatre at Everingham! Oh no!" And he looked a_anny with an expressive smile, which evidently meant, "That lady will neve_llow a theatre at Everingham."
Edmund saw it all, and saw Fanny so determined not to see it, as to make i_lear that the voice was enough to convey the full meaning of th_rotestation; and such a quick consciousness of compliment, such a read_omprehension of a hint, he thought, was rather favourable than not.
The subject of reading aloud was farther discussed. The two young men were th_nly talkers, but they, standing by the fire, talked over the too commo_eglect of the qualification, the total inattention to it, in the ordinar_chool-system for boys, the consequently natural, yet in some instances almos_nnatural, degree of ignorance and uncouthness of men, of sensible and well- informed men, when suddenly called to the necessity of reading aloud, whic_ad fallen within their notice, giving instances of blunders, and failure_ith their secondary causes, the want of management of the voice, of prope_odulation and emphasis, of foresight and judgment, all proceeding from th_irst cause: want of early attention and habit; and Fanny was listening agai_ith great entertainment.
"Even in my profession," said Edmund, with a smile, "how little the art o_eading has been studied! how little a clear manner, and good delivery, hav_een attended to! I speak rather of the past, however, than the present. Ther_s now a spirit of improvement abroad; but among those who were ordaine_wenty, thirty, forty years ago, the larger number, to judge by thei_erformance, must have thought reading was reading, and preaching wa_reaching. It is different now. The subject is more justly considered. It i_elt that distinctness and energy may have weight in recommending the mos_olid truths; and besides, there is more general observation and taste, a mor_ritical knowledge diffused than formerly; in every congregation there is _arger proportion who know a little of the matter, and who can judge an_riticise."
Edmund had already gone through the service once since his ordination; an_pon this being understood, he had a variety of questions from Crawford as t_is feelings and success; questions, which being made, though with th_ivacity of friendly interest and quick taste, without any touch of tha_pirit of banter or air of levity which Edmund knew to be most offensive t_anny, he had true pleasure in satisfying; and when Crawford proceeded to as_is opinion and give his own as to the properest manner in which particula_assages in the service should be delivered, shewing it to be a subject o_hich he had thought before, and thought with judgment, Edmund was still mor_nd more pleased. This would be the way to Fanny's heart. She was not to b_on by all that gallantry and wit and good-nature together could do; or, a_east, she would not be won by them nearly so soon, without the assistance o_entiment and feeling, and seriousness on serious subjects.
"Our liturgy," observed Crawford, "has beauties, which not even a careless, slovenly style of reading can destroy; but it has also redundancies an_epetitions which require good reading not to be felt. For myself, at least, _ust confess being not always so attentive as I ought to be" (here was _lance at Fanny); "that nineteen times out of twenty I am thinking how such _rayer ought to be read, and longing to have it to read myself. Did yo_peak?" stepping eagerly to Fanny, and addressing her in a softened voice; an_pon her saying "No," he added, "Are you sure you did not speak? I saw you_ips move. I fancied you might be going to tell me I ought to be mor_ttentive, and not allow my thoughts to wander. Are not you going to tell m_o?"
"No, indeed, you know your duty too well for me to— even supposing—"
She stopt, felt herself getting into a puzzle, and could not be prevailed o_o add another word, not by dint of several minutes of supplication an_aiting. He then returned to his former station, and went on as if there ha_een no such tender interruption.
"A sermon, well delivered, is more uncommon even than prayers well read. _ermon, good in itself, is no rare thing. It is more difficult to speak wel_han to compose well; that is, the rules and trick of composition are oftene_n object of study. A thoroughly good sermon, thoroughly well delivered, is _apital gratification. I can never hear such a one without the greates_dmiration and respect, and more than half a mind to take orders and preac_yself. There is something in the eloquence of the pulpit, when it is reall_loquence, which is entitled to the highest praise and honour. The preache_ho can touch and affect such an heterogeneous mass of hearers, on subject_imited, and long worn threadbare in all common hands; who can say anythin_ew or striking, anything that rouses the attention without offending th_aste, or wearing out the feelings of his hearers, is a man whom one coul_ot, in his public capacity, honour enough. I should like to be such a man."
"I should indeed. I never listened to a distinguished preacher in my lif_ithout a sort of envy. But then, I must have a London audience. I could no_reach but to the educated; to those who were capable of estimating m_omposition. And I do not know that I should be fond of preaching often; no_nd then, perhaps once or twice in the spring, after being anxiously expecte_or half a dozen Sundays together; but not for a constancy; it would not d_or a constancy."
Here Fanny, who could not but listen, involuntarily shook her head, an_rawford was instantly by her side again, entreating to know her meaning; an_s Edmund perceived, by his drawing in a chair, and sitting down close by her, that it was to be a very thorough attack, that looks and undertones were to b_ell tried, he sank as quietly as possible into a corner, turned his back, an_ook up a newspaper, very sincerely wishing that dear little Fanny might b_ersuaded into explaining away that shake of the head to the satisfaction o_er ardent lover; and as earnestly trying to bury every sound of the busines_rom himself in murmurs of his own, over the various advertisements of "A mos_esirable Estate in South Wales"; "To Parents and Guardians"; and a "Capita_eason'd Hunter."
Fanny, meanwhile, vexed with herself for not having been as motionless as sh_as speechless, and grieved to the heart to see Edmund's arrangements, wa_rying by everything in the power of her modest, gentle nature, to repulse Mr.
Crawford, and avoid both his looks and inquiries; and he, unrepulsable, wa_ersisting in both.
"What did that shake of the head mean?" said he. "What was it meant t_xpress? Disapprobation, I fear. But of what? What had I been saying t_isplease you? Did you think me speaking improperly, lightly, irreverently o_he subject? Only tell me if I was. Only tell me if I was wrong. I want to b_et right. Nay, nay, I entreat you; for one moment put down your work. Wha_id that shake of the head mean?"
In vain was her "Pray, sir, don't; pray, Mr. Crawford," repeated twice over; and in vain did she try to move away. In the same low, eager voice, and th_ame close neighbourhood, he went on, reurging the same questions as before.
She grew more agitated and displeased.
"How can you, sir? You quite astonish me; I wonder how you can—"
"Do I astonish you?" said he. "Do you wonder? Is there anything in my presen_ntreaty that you do not understand? I will explain to you instantly all tha_akes me urge you in this manner, all that gives me an interest in what yo_ook and do, and excites my present curiosity. I will not leave you to wonde_ong."
In spite of herself, she could not help half a smile, but she said nothing.
"You shook your head at my acknowledging that I should not like to engage i_he duties of a clergyman always for a constancy. Yes, that was the word.
Constancy: I am not afraid of the word. I would spell it, read it, write i_ith anybody. I see nothing alarming in the word. Did you think I ought?"
"Perhaps, sir," said Fanny, wearied at last into speaking— "perhaps, sir, _hought it was a pity you did not always know yourself as well as you seeme_o do at that moment."
Crawford, delighted to get her to speak at any rate, was determined to keep i_p; and poor Fanny, who had hoped to silence him by such an extremity o_eproof, found herself sadly mistaken, and that it was only a change from on_bject of curiosity and one set of words to another. He had always somethin_o entreat the explanation of. The opportunity was too fair. None such ha_ccurred since his seeing her in her uncle's room, none such might occur agai_efore his leaving Mansfield. Lady Bertram's being just on the other side o_he table was a trifle, for she might always be considered as only half-awake, and Edmund's advertisements were still of the first utility.
"Well," said Crawford, after a course of rapid questions and reluctan_nswers; "I am happier than I was, because I now understand more clearly you_pinion of me. You think me unsteady: easily swayed by the whim of the moment, easily tempted, easily put aside. With such an opinion, no wonder that. But w_hall see. It is not by protestations that I shall endeavour to convince you _m wronged; it is not by telling you that my affections are steady. My conduc_hall speak for me; absence, distance, time shall speak for me. They shal_rove that, as far as you can be deserved by anybody, I do deserve you. Yo_re infinitely my superior in merit; all that I know. You have qualities whic_ had not before supposed to exist in such a degree in any human creature. Yo_ave some touches of the angel in you beyond what— not merely beyond what on_ees, because one never sees anything like it—but beyond what one fancie_ight be. But still I am not frightened. It is not by equality of merit tha_ou can be won. That is out of the question. It is he who sees and worship_our merit the strongest, who loves you most devotedly, that has the bes_ight to a return. There I build my confidence. By that right I do and wil_eserve you; and when once convinced that my attachment is what I declare it, I know you too well not to entertain the warmest hopes. Yes, dearest, sweetes_anny. Nay" (seeing her draw back displeased), "forgive me. Perhaps I have a_et no right; but by what other name can I call you? Do you suppose you ar_ver present to my imagination under any other? No, it is 'Fanny' that I thin_f all day, and dream of all night. You have given the name such reality o_weetness, that nothing else can now be descriptive of you."
Fanny could hardly have kept her seat any longer, or have refrained from a_east trying to get away in spite of all the too public opposition she foresa_o it, had it not been for the sound of approaching relief, the very soun_hich she had been long watching for, and long thinking strangely delayed.
The solemn procession, headed by Baddeley, of tea-board, urn, and cake- bearers, made its appearance, and delivered her from a grievous imprisonmen_f body and mind. Mr. Crawford was obliged to move. She was at liberty, sh_as busy, she was protected.
Edmund was not sorry to be admitted again among the number of those who migh_peak and hear. But though the conference had seemed full long to him, an_hough on looking at Fanny he saw rather a flush of vexation, he inclined t_ope that so much could not have been said and listened to without some profi_o the speaker.