Mr. Henry Crawford paused in his reading of the Times to stare as his sister entered the sunny breakfast room.
"Lord! It is barely eight o'clock, Mary! Couldn't you sleep?"
She tossed her head as she sat down. "A fine question from you, Henry. You have no more right to be up early than I do. Did you feel a sudden, strange longing to see the sunrise today?"
"What if I did? I am surprised you can remember there is such a thing as a sunrise," he retorted, laughing.
Mary had woken in a bright mood, full of anticipation for a certain meeting that should take place that evening, and she must relieve her overflowing energy by teasing her brother. It was natural, considering the occupation of her own mind, that her next tactical maneuver should be a foray into the state of her brother's heart.
"What a phlegmatic creature you are! Only a week returned from Portsmouth and you sit down to toast and eggs with the heartiest of appetites. I am really quite shocked at you."
A slight widening of his deep-set dark eyes betrayed Mr. Crawford a little, but he was accustomed to disguise, and his hand did not shake as he turned another page.
"I have no idea what you mean, Mary. Do you imply that my appetite is dangerous to my health? The eggs are soft-boiled and would not give a moment's discomfort to even the most delicate, which I am certainly not," he said in the blandest possible voice.
"Henry! The eggs may be soft, but you are as hard-hearted a person as I have ever met. Have you no tender recollections to disturb your appetite in the slightest? And reading the paper as calmly as if you had never met anyone of the family of Price -- for shame! I hope the eggs may give you indigestion after all."
"You know I have an excellent constitution," replied he, to all appearances unmoved.
The truth was that Mary's teasing conjectures had at first missed the mark altogether. Henry Crawford's mind had been occupied with racing results, and the results of the expected evening's entertainment, at which he should meet Mrs. Rushworth and resume an absorbing game he had not yet won. But his sister's persistence bore fruit after all. He was a person of great imagination, and unexpectedly for a moment he saw a vision as vivid as a painting: Fanny Price leaning with both hands against the wall of the sea walk at Portsmouth, eyes looking past him, but sparkling with the reflected glint of sunlight on white foam; her cheeks and nose a little reddened with sharp air and stiff breeze. For a moment Henry Crawford sat still, his gaze unfocused; then he turned back to his paper.
Provoked by his indifference, Mary poured herself a cup of coffee and lost herself in her own thoughts, which, judging by the smile on her lips, pleased her more than a little.
Mr. Crawford finished his toast with deliberation and stood up. "Mary, best of sisters, I believe I must end my visit sooner than I had wished."
This sudden announcement brought Mary round with a jolt. "What? I thought you stayed at least another week. Have you had news?"
"Not exactly, but duty calls, you know; although I have no doubt you would have me ignore it as long as possible. But I feel an urge to be dull and sensible, and therefore I should go at once while I have the chance. Such moments are rare enough -- they should be indulged when they come."
"You don't mean to leave today?"
"Yes, today I think. I shall ride to our sister's house and finish the journey tomorrow, but I would rather start at once than arrive too late," he replied.
"You won't stay for Mrs. Fraser's party this evening? I cannot go without you -- you promised to escort me!"
"I made no promise of the kind, you sly girl, and you know very well you can have any of a number of your friends fetch you. I have already been too lazy; Everingham really demands my attention."
"Surely a delay of one day cannot signify," said Mary with a petulant look. She had expected him to give in to her pressing at once.
"It does not signify to my business, but I know myself, and if I stay one more day, the one will grow to seven despite the strongest resolutions to the contrary," he said with unusual honesty. He did not expect her to understand, and she did not.
"Then make it seven, for heaven's sake, Henry! I cannot imagine what could send you flying away so fast!"
"No, Mary," he said affectionately, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "I am absolutely determined, and it is your own fault."
"My fault? What can you mean?"
"You did, after all, allude to a certain Miss Price," he said over his shoulder as the door closed.
Mr. Crawford had determined to be exactly what his habits were not: steadfast and purposeful. The decision had been made swiftly, as he did everything. Fanny expected him to go to Everingham -- therefore he would go. It became apparent that charm alone would not win her; so he would be responsible and honorable and eager to do his duty: whatever would make her think well of him, that he would become. There was a kind of challenge in it that he accepted with enthusiasm, and which mostly compensated for the loss of the other challenge he had been pursuing. He had fully intended to make Mrs. Rushworth in love with him again, just to serve her right for being so cold. And he couldn't help but regret that her pride would remain victorious. There was an injustice in it that irked him. At the thought of Fanny's eyes, though -- he could see those eyes before him, gentle and trusting, and then hurt and disappointed. No, it was too great a risk. Her strict propriety must govern his actions, at least for a while. The conquering of Maria Rushworth must take second place to that.
He arrived at Mansfield Parsonage in good time, and did not omit to call at the Park, certain of a warm reception from Sir Thomas. The Bertrams were surprised, but placidly pleased to see him, and Sir Thomas invited him into the study without any hinting necessary. Though Mr. Crawford answered Sir Thomas's repeated questions after the rest of the family, he would not be swerved from the real purpose of his visit; which was tactfully but warmly to recommend that Fanny be fetched as soon as might be.
"My sister would have been glad to bring her to London, had I not left her without the resources to do so. You must understand my feelings, sir. I would not be impertinent to you, indeed I hesitate to mention it at all; but the anxiety I cannot help feeling at any threat to her health..." he let the sentence trail unfinished, and Sir Thomas caught him up at once.
"Certainly, I would not allow Fanny to put her health in danger, if I thought such a thing were possible; but perhaps you are too partial, Mr. Crawford. Your wish to protect her from harm is commendable and natural, given your feelings toward her, but perhaps you imagine harm where no harm is. I have heard no wish from Fanny herself, nor any ill report." Sir Thomas, it was easy to see, thought Mr. Crawford overstepped his bounds.
Mr. Crawford eagerly countered this by praising Fanny's humility in never complaining, describing her situation with passionate zeal, and concluding with a veiled admiration of Sir Thomas's generosity and Christian compassion. Such praise, from an avowed lover, Sir Thomas could not contradict. He had no inclination to deny any charms of Fanny's to her suitor, nor to disclaim the compliment to himself which seemed only justice. And really in this case there was no harm in giving way to all Mr. Crawford's suggestions, especially as the idea he mentioned had crossed Sir Thomas's own mind more than once. A little resistance was necessary for Sir Thomas's pride, but the two gentlemen parted in perfect harmony with each other, and each thinking equally well of the other's determination and virtue.
Thus Mr. Crawford won his way with a little art, which Fanny would have been ashamed to practice. His end was good, and his means had no real bad in them. He mostly spoke with sincerity, and if he exaggerated just a little, who could blame him?