The Crawfords and the Bertrams begin to spend a lot of time together again, which they have not done since the play. Even Sir Thomas opens up to the Grants. He notices, also, Henry’s increasing attention to Fanny. One night, Sir Thomas goes so far as to accept an invitation to dine at the Parsonage on behalf of the family, and the dinner goes well.
Sir Thomas’s stiff manners and stoic, uptight ways begin to loosen as he gets to know and like his neighbors. Sir Thomas continues to develop into a kinder, more open character, a big change from the book’s beginning.
After the dinner, they play cards. Lady Bertram, who is in the game, cannot make decisions by herself, and so asks Fanny. Fanny does not know how to play either, and so Henry offers to teach them both. During the game, which everyone is enjoying very much, Henry tells a story about how he was out riding and stumbled upon Thornton Lacey, the property that Edmund intends to inhabit after he gets ordained.
Henry keeps trying to flirt with Fanny. He clearly reads her well, appealing to her by being kind and helpful. Henry’s comments about Edmund’s future dwelling at Thornton Lacey brings the question of Edmund and Mary’s romance to the fore, since that’s the house they would likely inhabit if wed.
The group goes on to discuss the renovations that Edmund will need to make before the house is satisfactory. Henry and Edmund both have ideas, but Edmund knows he will be constrained by his modest budget. Mary, focusing on the game to avoid thinking about Edmund’s lack of fortune, wins, and the group starts another round of cards. Henry and Edmund continue their discussion of the Thornton Lacey renovations, with Henry pushing him to consider more luxurious and more expensive changes.
Austen juxtaposes Henry and Edmund’s different visions for Thornton Lacey, with Henry showing his preference for luxury and Edmund favoring modesty and comfort. The two different men who occupy romantic roles in Fanny’s life offer two different visions of what their ideal domestic life would be like.
As Henry directs Fanny in playing her hand, he asks her if she has ever seen Thornton Lacey, and she replies that she has not. Mary suggests that Henry go out to Thornton Lacey with Edmund to give his opinion on the improvements to be made, since he did so well at Sotherton. Fanny remembers her dislike for Henry on that afternoon, but Henry whispers to her that he is different now.
Henry’s direction of Fanny’s hand might be a metaphor for his manipulation of her. He anticipates her thoughts when he mentions Sotherton and tells her he has changed since then. The present situation with Edmund’s renovation mimics Sotherton, but under very different circumstances.
Mrs. Norris, catching on the topic of Sotherton, tells William that Maria and Mr. Rushworth are at Brighton and that William should visit them on his way to Portsmouth. William tells Mrs. Norris that it is a far trip, and Sir Thomas advises against William going to Brighton since it is so out of the way.
Mrs. Norris’s encouragement that William should go visit his cousins is peculiar, since she is usually so disdainful of Fanny and her lower class, which William shares. His charisma, however, seems to have made even Mrs. Norris like him.
Sir Thomas continues to notice Henry’s attention to Fanny. Henry tells them of his plans to rent a house near Mansfield that winter, and hopes he might rent Thornton Lacey. Sir Thomas says he hopes Edmund will be living in the house by then. Edmund tells Henry not to rent the house, but just to come stay with him. Sir Thomas expresses his sadness that Edmund will be moving the eight miles away, saying that he imagines Edmund, who is committed to being a good preacher, will spend much of his time among his parishioners.
If Henry and Edmund’s differing visions of Thornton Lacey represent the two different domestic lives they would offer Fanny, Henry’s desire to rent Thornton Lacey, and his inability to do so because the house is Edmund’s, might be a loose metaphor for Henry’s later “loss” of Fanny to Edmund. Austen reiterates Edmund’s devotion to preaching, showing how he will not be like the London ministers Mary complained of.
Mary and Fanny have been listening to the conversation. Fanny laments that soon Edmund will move and she will not see him every day, while Mary continues to wish she could convince Edmund not to join the clergy.
The differences in Fanny and Mary’s reactions to Edmund’s future absence speak to their differing levels of care for him, with Mary thinking of herself and Fanny of missing Edmund.
The group moves to sit around the fire, except for William and Fanny, who stay at the card table while Henry watches them from the hearth. The siblings talk about life in Portsmouth, and William expresses his frustration that he has not moved up in the ranks of the navy.
William’s frustration about not being promoted in the navy, despite his accomplishments, shows how even the military works based on connections and class- based rank, with promotion being far easier for the upper classes.
William tells Fanny he would like to see her dance at a ball, and asks Sir Thomas, who is sitting nearby, if Fanny is a good dancer. Fanny is embarrassed and expects to be chastised, but instead Sir Thomas light-heartedly says that he has never seen Fanny dance. Henry adds his two cents, saying Fanny is an excellent dancer (though in fact he only saw her dance once).
When Fanny cringes at William’s boldness with Sir Thomas, she shows how she is used to being criticized for overstepping her status. William’s charm, however, works in his favor, and Sir Thomas is more easygoing now than in the past.
At last, the event ends and the Bertrams return home with the Prices and Mrs. Norris. As they are leaving, Henry seizes the shawl Edmund was about to put around Fanny’s shoulders and does so in his place.
Henry’s usurpation of Edmund’s role in putting the shawl on Fanny’s shoulders reflects his attempt to take Edmund’s place in her heart.