The Prices were just setting off for church the next day when Mr. Crawfor_ppeared again. He came, not to stop, but to join them; he was asked to g_ith them to the Garrison chapel, which was exactly what he had intended, an_hey all walked thither together.
The family were now seen to advantage. Nature had given them no inconsiderabl_hare of beauty, and every Sunday dressed them in their cleanest skins an_est attire. Sunday always brought this comfort to Fanny, and on this Sunda_he felt it more than ever. Her poor mother now did not look so very unworth_f being Lady Bertram's sister as she was but too apt to look. It ofte_rieved her to the heart to think of the contrast between them; to think tha_here nature had made so little difference, circumstances should have made s_uch, and that her mother, as handsome as Lady Bertram, and some years he_unior, should have an appearance so much more worn and faded, so comfortless,
so slatternly, so shabby. But Sunday made her a very creditable and tolerabl_heerful-looking Mrs. Price, coming abroad with a fine family of children,
feeling a little respite of her weekly cares, and only discomposed if she sa_er boys run into danger, or Rebecca pass by with a flower in her hat.
In chapel they were obliged to divide, but Mr. Crawford took care not to b_ivided from the female branch; and after chapel he still continued with them,
and made one in the family party on the ramparts.
Mrs. Price took her weekly walk on the ramparts every fine Sunday throughou_he year, always going directly after morning service and staying till dinner-
time. It was her public place: there she met her acquaintance, heard a littl_ews, talked over the badness of the Portsmouth servants, and wound up he_pirits for the six days ensuing.
Thither they now went; Mr. Crawford most happy to consider the Miss Prices a_is peculiar charge; and before they had been there long, somehow or other,
there was no saying how, Fanny could not have believed it, but he was walkin_etween them with an arm of each under his, and she did not know how t_revent or put an end to it. It made her uncomfortable for a time, but ye_here were enjoyments in the day and in the view which would be felt.
The day was uncommonly lovely. It was really March; but it was April in it_ild air, brisk soft wind, and bright sun, occasionally clouded for a minute;
and everything looked so beautiful under the influence of such a sky, th_ffects of the shadows pursuing each other on the ships at Spithead and th_sland beyond, with the ever-varying hues of the sea, now at high water,
dancing in its glee and dashing against the ramparts with so fine a sound,
produced altogether such a combination of charms for Fanny, as made he_radually almost careless of the circumstances under which she felt them. Nay,
had she been without his arm, she would soon have known that she needed it,
for she wanted strength for a two hours' saunter of this kind, coming, as i_enerally did, upon a week's previous inactivity. Fanny was beginning to fee_he effect of being debarred from her usual regular exercise; she had los_round as to health since her being in Portsmouth; and but for Mr. Crawfor_nd the beauty of the weather would soon have been knocked up now.
The loveliness of the day, and of the view, he felt like herself. They ofte_topt with the same sentiment and taste, leaning against the wall, som_inutes, to look and admire; and considering he was not Edmund, Fanny coul_ot but allow that he was sufficiently open to the charms of nature, and ver_ell able to express his admiration. She had a few tender reveries now an_hen, which he could sometimes take advantage of to look in her face withou_etection; and the result of these looks was, that though as bewitching a_ver, her face was less blooming than it ought to be. She said she was ver_ell, and did not like to be supposed otherwise; but take it all in all, h_as convinced that her present residence could not be comfortable, an_herefore could not be salutary for her, and he was growing anxious for he_eing again at Mansfield, where her own happiness, and his in seeing her, mus_e so much greater.
"You have been here a month, I think?" said he.
"No; not quite a month. It is only four weeks to-morrow since I lef_ansfield."
"You are a most accurate and honest reckoner. I should call that a month."
"I did not arrive here till Tuesday evening."
"And it is to be a two months' visit, is not?"
"Yes. My uncle talked of two months. I suppose it will not be less."
"And how are you to be conveyed back again? Who comes for you?"
"I do not know. I have heard nothing about it yet from my aunt. Perhaps I ma_e to stay longer. It may not be convenient for me to be fetched exactly a_he two months' end."
After a moment's reflection, Mr. Crawford replied, "I know Mansfield, I kno_ts way, I know its faults towards you. I know the danger of your being so fa_orgotten, as to have your comforts give way to the imaginary convenience o_ny single being in the family. I am aware that you may be left here wee_fter week, if Sir Thomas cannot settle everything for coming himself, o_ending your aunt's maid for you, without involving the slightest alteratio_f the arrangements which he may have laid down for the next quarter of _ear. This will not do. Two months is an ample allowance; I should think si_eeks quite enough. I am considering your sister's health," said he,
addressing himself to Susan, "which I think the confinement of Portsmout_nfavourable to. She requires constant air and exercise. When you know her a_ell as I do, I am sure you will agree that she does, and that she ought neve_o be long banished from the free air and liberty of the country. If,
therefore" (turning again to Fanny), "you find yourself growing unwell, an_ny difficulties arise about your returning to Mansfield, without waiting fo_he two months to be ended, that must not be regarded as of any consequence,
if you feel yourself at all less strong or comfortable than usual, and wil_nly let my sister know it, give her only the slightest hint, she and I wil_mmediately come down, and take you back to Mansfield. You know the ease an_he pleasure with which this would be done. You know all that would be felt o_he occasion."
Fanny thanked him, but tried to laugh it off.
"I am perfectly serious," he replied, "as you perfectly know. And I hope yo_ill not be cruelly concealing any tendency to indisposition. Indeed, yo_hall not; it shall not be in your power; for so long only as you positivel_ay, in every letter to Mary, 'I am well,' and I know you cannot speak o_rite a falsehood, so long only shall you be considered as well."
Fanny thanked him again, but was affected and distressed to a degree that mad_t impossible for her to say much, or even to be certain of what she ought t_ay. This was towards the close of their walk. He attended them to the last,
and left them only at the door of their own house, when he knew them to b_oing to dinner, and therefore pretended to be waited for elsewhere.
"I wish you were not so tired," said he, still detaining Fanny after all th_thers were in the house—"I wish I left you in stronger health. Is ther_nything I can do for you in town? I have half an idea of going into Norfol_gain soon. I am not satisfied about Maddison. I am sure he still means t_mpose on me if possible, and get a cousin of his own into a certain mill,
which I design for somebody else. I must come to an understanding with him. _ust make him know that I will not be tricked on the south side of Everingham,
any more than on the north: that I will be master of my own property. I wa_ot explicit enough with him before. The mischief such a man does on a_state, both as to the credit of his employer and the welfare of the poor, i_nconceivable. I have a great mind to go back into Norfolk directly, and pu_verything at once on such a footing as cannot be afterwards swerved from.
Maddison is a clever fellow; I do not wish to displace him, provided he doe_ot try to displace me; but it would be simple to be duped by a man who has n_ight of creditor to dupe me, and worse than simple to let him give me a hard-
hearted, griping fellow for a tenant, instead of an honest man, to whom I hav_iven half a promise already. Would it not be worse than simple? Shall I go?
Do you advise it?"
"I advise! You know very well what is right."
"Yes. When you give me your opinion, I always know what is right. You_udgment is my rule of right."
"Oh, no! do not say so. We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we woul_ttend to it, than any other person can be. Good-bye; I wish you a pleasan_ourney to-morrow."
"Is there nothing I can do for you in town?"
"Nothing; I am much obliged to you."
"Have you no message for anybody?"
"My love to your sister, if you please; and when you see my cousin, my cousi_dmund, I wish you would be so good as to say that I suppose I shall soon hea_rom him."
"Certainly; and if he is lazy or negligent, I will write his excuses myself."
He could say no more, for Fanny would be no longer detained. He pressed he_and, looked at her, and was gone. He went to while away the next three hour_s he could, with his other acquaintance, till the best dinner that a capita_nn afforded was ready for their enjoyment, and she turned in to her mor_imple one immediately.
Their general fare bore a very different character; and could he hav_uspected how many privations, besides that of exercise, she endured in he_ather's house, he would have wondered that her looks were not much mor_ffected than he found them. She was so little equal to Rebecca's puddings an_ebecca's hashes, brought to table, as they all were, with such accompaniment_f half-cleaned plates, and not half-cleaned knives and forks, that she wa_ery often constrained to defer her heartiest meal till she could send he_rothers in the evening for biscuits and buns. After being nursed up a_ansfield, it was too late in the day to be hardened at Portsmouth; and thoug_ir Thomas, had he known all, might have thought his niece in the mos_romising way of being starved, both mind and body, into a much juster valu_or Mr. Crawford's good company and good fortune, he would probably hav_eared to push his experiment farther, lest she might die under the cure.
Fanny was out of spirits all the rest of the day. Though tolerably secure o_ot seeing Mr. Crawford again, she could not help being low. It was partin_ith somebody of the nature of a friend; and though, in one light, glad t_ave him gone, it seemed as if she was now deserted by everybody; it was _ort of renewed separation from Mansfield; and she could not think of hi_eturning to town, and being frequently with Mary and Edmund, without feeling_o near akin to envy as made her hate herself for having them.
Her dejection had no abatement from anything passing around her; a friend o_wo of her father's, as always happened if he was not with them, spent th_ong, long evening there; and from six o'clock till half-past nine, there wa_ittle intermission of noise or grog. She was very low. The wonderfu_mprovement which she still fancied in Mr. Crawford was the nearest t_dministering comfort of anything within the current of her thoughts. No_onsidering in how different a circle she had been just seeing him, nor ho_uch might be owing to contrast, she was quite persuaded of his bein_stonishingly more gentle and regardful of others than formerly. And, if i_ittle things, must it not be so in great? So anxious for her health an_omfort, so very feeling as he now expressed himself, and really seemed, migh_ot it be fairly supposed that he would not much longer persevere in a suit s_istressing to her?