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Chapter 12
Sir Thomas was to return in November, and his eldest son had duties to call him
earlier home. The approach of September brought tidings of Mr. Bertram, first in
a letter to the gamekeeper and then in a letter to Edmund; and by the end of
August he arrived himself, to be gay, agreeable, and gallant again as occasion
served, or Miss Crawford demanded; to tell of races and Weymouth, and parties
and friends, to which she might have listened six weeks before with some
interest, and altogether to give her the fullest conviction, by the power of actual
comparison, of her preferring his younger brother.
It was very vexatious, and she was heartily sorry for it; but so it was; and so far
from now meaning to marry the elder, she did not even want to attract him
beyond what the simplest claims of conscious beauty required: his lengthened
absence from Mansfield, without anything but pleasure in view, and his own will
to consult, made it perfectly clear that he did not care about her; and his
indifference was so much more than equalled by her own, that were he now to
step forth the owner of Mansfield Park, the Sir Thomas complete, which he was
to be in time, she did not believe she could accept him.
The season and duties which brought Mr. Bertram back to Mansfield took Mr.
Crawford into Norfolk. Everingham could not do without him in the beginning of
September. He went for a fortnight--a fortnight of such dullness to the Miss
Bertrams as ought to have put them both on their guard, and made even Julia
admit, in her jealousy of her sister, the absolute necessity of distrusting his
attentions, and wishing him not to return; and a fortnight of sufficient leisure, in
the intervals of shooting and sleeping, to have convinced the gentleman that he
ought to keep longer away, had he been more in the habit of examining his own
motives, and of reflecting to what the indulgence of his idle vanity was tending;
but, thoughtless and selfish from prosperity and bad example, he would not look
beyond the present moment. The sisters, handsome, clever, and encouraging,
were an amusement to his sated mind; and finding nothing in Norfolk to equal the
social pleasures of Mansfield, he gladly returned to it at the time appointed, and
was welcomed thither quite as gladly by those whom he came to trifle with
Maria, with only Mr. Rushworth to attend to her, and doomed to the repeated
details of his day's sport, good or bad, his boast of his dogs, his jealousy of his
neighbours, his doubts of their qualifications, and his zeal after poachers,
subjects which will not find their way to female feelings without some talent on
one side or some attachment on the other, had missed Mr. Crawford grievously;
and Julia, unengaged and unemployed, felt all the right of missing him much
more. Each sister believed herself the favourite. Julia might be justified in so
doing by the hints of Mrs. Grant, inclined to credit what she wished, and Maria by
the hints of Mr. Crawford himself. Everything returned into the same channel as
before his absence; his manners being to each so animated and agreeable as to
lose no ground with either, and just stopping short of the consistence, the
steadiness, the solicitude, and the warmth which might excite general notice.