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A quarter of an hour, twenty minutes, passed away, and Fanny was still thinking of Edmund, Miss Crawford, and herself, without interruption from any one. She began to be surprised at being left so long, and to listen with an anxious desire of hearing their steps and their voices again. She listened, and at length she heard; she heard voices and feet approaching; but she had just satisfied herself that it was not those she wanted, when Miss Bertram, Mr. Rushworth, and Mr. Crawford issued from the same path which she had trod herself, and were before her.
“Miss Price all alone” and “My dear Fanny, how comes this?” were the first salutations. She told her story. “Poor dear Fanny,” cried her cousin, “how ill you have been used by them! You had better have staid with us.”
Then seating herself with a gentleman on each side, she resumed the conversation which had engaged them before, and discussed the possibility of improvements with much animation. Nothing was fixed on; but Henry Crawford was full of ideas and projects, and, generally speaking, whatever he proposed was immediately approved, first by her, and then by Mr. Rushworth, whose principal business seemed to be to hear the others, and who scarcely risked an original thought of his own beyond a wish that they had seen his friend Smith’s place.
After some minutes spent in this way, Miss Bertram, observing the iron gate, expressed a wish of passing through it into the park, that their views and their plans might be more comprehensive. It was the very thing of all others to be wished, it was the best, it was the only way of proceeding with any advantage, in Henry Crawford’s opinion; and he directly saw a knoll not half a mile off, which would give them exactly the requisite command of the house. Go therefore they must to that knoll, and through that gate; but the gate was locked. Mr. Rushworth wished he had brought the key; he had been very near thinking whether he should not bring the key; he was determined he would never come without the key again; but still this did not remove the present evil. They could not get through; and as Miss Bertram’s inclination for so doing did by no means lessen, it ended in Mr. Rushworth’s declaring outright that he would go and fetch the key. He set off accordingly.
“It is undoubtedly the best thing we can do now, as we are so far from the house already,” said Mr. Crawford, when he was gone.
“Yes, there is nothing else to be done. But now, sincerely, do not you find the place altogether worse than you expected?”
“No, indeed, far otherwise. I find it better, grander, more complete in its style, though that style may not be the best. And to tell you the truth,” speaking rather lower, “I do not think that _I_ shall ever see Sotherton again with so much pleasure as I do now. Another summer will hardly improve it to me.”
After a moment’s embarrassment the lady replied, “You are too much a man of the world not to see with the eyes of the world. If other people think Sotherton improved, I have no doubt that you will.”
“I am afraid I am not quite so much the man of the world as might be good for me in some points. My feelings are not quite so evanescent, nor my memory of the past under such easy dominion as one finds to be the case with men of the world.”
This was followed by a short silence. Miss Bertram began again. “You seemed to enjoy your drive here very much this morning. I was glad to see you so well entertained. You and Julia were laughing the whole way.”
“Were we? Yes, I believe we were; but I have not the least recollection at what. Oh! I believe I was relating to her some ridiculous stories of an old Irish groom of my uncle’s. Your sister loves to laugh.”
“You think her more light-hearted than I am?”