Henry attended Fanny and Susan to the last, and left them only at the door of their own house, when he knew them to be going to dinner, and therefore pretended to be waited for elsewhere.
"I wish you were not so tired," said he, still detaining Fanny after all the others were in the house – "I wish I left you in stronger health. Is there anything I can do for you in town? I have half an idea of going into Norfolk again soon. I am not satisfied about Maddison. I am sure he still means to impose 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. I must 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 was not explicit with him before. The mischief such a man does on an estate, both as to the credit of his employer and the welfare of the poor, is inconceivable. I have a great mind to go back into Norfolk directly, and put everything 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 does not try to displace me, but it would be simple to be duped by a man who has no right 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 have given half a promise already. Would it not be worse that 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. Your judgment is my rule of right."
Henry's words invoked a swift and surprising warmth in Fanny, as potent and stimulative as was her growing sisterly friendship with Susan. Here was another to whom she could be useful, and more than useful, if his vows of love might be, as she was hesitatingly almost beginning to believe, sincere and true. He had said he would show her by his constancy that he deserved her and now, when all her friends at Mansfield, excepting perhaps her aunt, had forgotten her even more thoroughly than she had anticipated that they would, here was Henry Crawford as constant as he had declared he would be, and asking her advice.
When she looked up he was smiling into her eyes, his smile both sweet and quizzical, for nothing in their past acquaintance compared to this moment. Fanny, usually so quick to dismiss his interest, seem to be giving serious thought to his question.
Fanny wondered if her own judgment truly was Henry's "rule of right." Before she came to Portsmouth Fanny would never have believed anyone could look up to her so, most especially Henry, who had been independent of any authority or advice from an unusually young age and who seemed to find no one essential to him. Was he truly asking for her opinion so as to be guided by it? Fanny decided that she would take the risk and give her advice. If he was guided by her advice, she would begin to understand that she had judged him unfairly, that his declarations of love were not in jest.
Fanny lifted her chin and looked directly into Henry's face so that he saw, for perhaps the first time, her countenance unveiled by her usual diffidence.
"Very well, if you wish for my advice, I will give it."
"My dear Miss Price – I thank you ! This is treating me like a friend. Pray tell me your opinion."
"I advise that you return to Everingham at once, to settle things with your agent, and with respect to the mill, and to make Mr. Maddison understand your opinions, so that, as you said, he cannot swerve from them. That is what I advise. London will always be there when your work is complete. Pleasure is even more pleasurable, you know, when you have satisfied your responsibilities."
"I believe you are right! I am never more lighthearted than after or even while taking some task in hand." Henry was chiefly thinking of the task of introducing William to his uncle, and persuading his uncle to exert himself towards William's promotion, which had indeed been a great joy to him, knowing that it would give Fanny so much happiness. However if he could achieve the same result – that of pleasing Fanny – by giving his estate the attention it deserved perhaps the labor would be more agreeable. "May I write to you, my dearest – dear, Miss Price, do allow me to write to you about Everingham while I am there."
As Fanny hesitated Henry said, "It is your nature to do good and be good. I have not your goodness, but I do believe I am capable of goodness, if only I can exert myself for someone, for you, of course, and for the sake of the future I hope for. It will be so easy to be patient and energetic at my work, so easy to be good, if I can tell you about it, whilst I am hard at work. William has told me how valuable you letters are, especially in danger or discomfort or even performing some boring drudgery. Always there was a conversation going on in his min, a conversation between brother and sister, which he found so useful and so comforting."
Fanny was blushing fiercely, and her eyes were fixed firmly on the tips of her shoes, and Henry had to lean in to hear her low voice. "Write to my uncle first, and if his permission . . .that is, if he will approve . . .I shall be glad . . ."
Henry understood that Fanny's modesty and embarrassment might hinder her from ever finishing her sentence. He reached for her hand and held it in both of his. "I will abide by your uncle's opinion, of course. For now, good afternoon and God bless you!" He parted with a lingering look, with the sense that her heart was warming to his. Though Henry had always been confident that he would win Fanny, his confidence had been based on the attentions of other women, not on any conduct of Fanny's. He thought he understood her better now; she was lonely at her father's house, and perhaps more susceptible to his attentions here than at Mansfield. Would Sir Thomas understand the importance of their correspondence? Would Sir Thomas care for more propriety, which forbade letters between young men and women unless they were engaged, or more for his desire that Fanny should be well settled with Henry? After all, Henry had made the proper proposals for Fanny and considered himself engaged.
As Fanny turned into her father's house her thoughts were so busy as to keep her from attending to the scene surrounding her. Though she ate even less than usual she also minded less than usual her unsatisfied appetite.
She could not guess whether she preferred to hear more from Mr. Crawford, or not. She had set him a test but she could not guess how he would perform, and could not understand her own wishes as to how she wanted him to perform, but she felt some relief in having taken some positive step towards a greater clarity between them.
After Fanny and Susan retired upstairs and Tom was dispatched on his daily errand for biscuits and buns, Fanny wondered whether she might confide in Susan. Certainly her sister would be interested, and she must have guessed at some part of the story already. It would be a real relief to talk of what she felt, and to someone whose sympathy could be relied on, but it would also be getting Susan's hopes up for a connection that might never be. Fanny decided to wait, at least until some letters proved Mr. Crawford's constancy.
Fanny was rather surprised at herself for agreeing to receive Mr. Crawford's letters if her uncle approved them. Despite the propriety that prohibited a correspondence between a couple who were not engaged, Fanny could not think of any other opportunity to understand Mr. Crawford well enough to know if she could change her opinion of him, if she could like him well enough to marry him. A month in her father's house had made her more practical than she had been at Mansfield. Fanny could not marry a man without love, in that she was unchanged, but she could wish to love a man who loved and wanted to marry her, if such a love were possible. Edmund had suggested as much when he had said "Let him succeed at last, Fanny, let him succeed at last. You have proven yourself upright and disinterested, prove yourself grateful and tender-hearted; and then you will be the perfect model of a woman which I have always believed you born for." Then she had thoroughly repudiated Edmund's opinion that she could ever like Mr. Crawford. But in opening her heart to Susan and trying to understand Susan's disposition, which was so different from her own, Fanny had begun to realize that she had judged Mr. Crawford without understanding and without candour.
Mr. Crawford was able to adapt himself to have and to give pleasure in conversation with such diverse people as her father and her uncle, her mother and her aunt, her cousin Edmund and her cousin Maria, and most importantly with her own brother, William. With Edmund he must have talked sensibly, intelligently and with propriety, for Edmund would not hold him in regard if he had not, and yet he had flirted so shamelessly with Maria! He had not understood that Maria's feelings were affected; Fanny realized that now. He had merely talked to Maria in a way that gratified them both, as if they were in a play or a game. He had been wrong, deeply wrong, but then so had Maria been wrong, which Fanny had not acknowledged until her cousin Edmund had declared it so when they talked of Mr. Crawford and the play. If her cousins had not allowed themselves to be flirted with, Mr. Crawford would have found some other topic that interested them. Fanny now understood Maria better, and realized that Maria was the subject of most interest to Maria. Mr. Crawford was still at fault, but if he would not repeat the error, with Maria or Julia or anyone else, Fanny could look back and if not excuse, then at least forgive.
"You are so silent Fanny," Susan said. "Is anything distressing you? You look as though you might have a headache. Shall I go down to the kitchen and make us some tea? Perhaps a cup of tea will help your head."
"Oh Susan! I am sorry to be so dull. I am a bit troubled, you are right, but I have no headache, I am thankful to say. I think I must write to my aunt now, and if you will make us some tea, Tom should be back soon and he could post a letter for me while we have our tea. And then I shall be more lively. Perhaps we could read, as this is the last shirt and we could finish it tomorrow afternoon." Fanny and Susan were at work on more linen for Sam, for his ship would dock in a few days and he had left for his first voyage with only half his linen.
Susan went to the kitchen while Fanny sat down to write a letter that could have taken her hours, but because it must be finished in ten minutes she must find the words quickly:
"My dearest aunt,
I hope this finds you well and in good spirits. Mr. Crawford has been to visit my family Portsmouth these last two days. Today he attended us all to church, and then walked with Susan and me on the ramparts where we go every Sunday, when the weather is fine. He had just been to his estate in Everingham and was returning to London, but decided to go back to Everingham, as he was not satisfied with his agent's compliance. He asked me if he could write to me from Everingham (you must remember that he considers himself engaged to me) but I referred him to my uncle Bertram for his approval. I would, indeed, like to correspond with Mr. Crawford, as perhaps a way of becoming better acquainted with his character and disposition, if my uncle could agree. No doubt my uncle will hear from Mr. Crawford soon.
We are all well here. We hope to see Sam in few days when his ship docks for a short time. Susan and I want to see the ship and have a good visit with Sam, who writes he has grown a good deal in his first voyage, even though it was a short one. We have just finished making larger shirts for him, and will take back the ones we sent with him, to let them out and make them over. We have never a dull moment looking after all our sailors.
Your loving niece, Fanny"
It was more like a letter of business than any letter she had ever written to her aunt, but Fanny couldn't imagine how her uncle would receive Mr. Crawford's request, and felt less nervous having sent a short explanation herself. Susan returned with the tea, Tom with the biscuits and buns, and in exchange for two of the buns, ran off to post Fanny's letter. Susan and Fanny began to talk over Mr. Crawford's visit and Fanny gave Susan a very brief and heavily redacted account of their acquaintance at Mansfield, talking more of William and Mr. Crawford, than of herself and Mr. Crawford. Fanny's disturbed spirits gradually revived with tea and quiet chat and she began to look forward to her uncle's answer.