Fanny waits in the drawing-room with the Crawfords and Mr. Yates while Sir Thomas is reunited with his immediate family. The Crawfords quietly return to the parsonage, but Mr. Yates stays behind. In great trepidation, Fanny goes to see her uncle, and is stunned by his kind manner towards her: "his kindness was such as to made her reproach herself for loving him so little." Sir Thomas meets Mr. Rushmore for the first time, and everything seems comfortable. Tom glosses over the whole acting business until Sir Thomas goes to see his room and finds both it and the billiard room converted into a stage. Here, he makes Mr. Yates's acquaintance. He holds his temper as he hears from him the whole history of the endeavor, and looks askance at Edmund: "On your judgment, Edmund, I depended." Edmund explains to his father that everyone was to blame for the theatrical fiasco except Fanny, who consistently opposed the play for her uncle's sake. Mrs. Norris attempts to remove any blame from herself by pointing out to Sir Thomas her role in making the match between Maria and Rushmore, which Sir Thomas is beginning to find a matter of some concern. He orders the removal of anything having to do with the play, and Mr. Yates leaves soon afterwards. Maria wants more than anything for Henry Crawford to declare his love for her, but he leaves Mansfield for Bath, at which point Maria decides she will follow through with her decision to wed Rushworth.
Mansfield seems "an altered place" in the absence of the Crawfords. Sir Thomas makes it clear that he wants, for a while at least, only the company of his immediate family. He does, however, include Rushworth in this circle. Maria and Rushworth marry quickly and honeymoon in Brighton: no longer a rival, Julia accompanies her sister. Fanny, now the only young woman at Mansfield, moves toward center stage. Sir Thomas pays particular attention to her and comments on her improved good looks. Edmund goes to great lengths to complement Fanny-she has grown into a pretty young woman--and to explain to her the depth of his father's approval of her. Fanny becomes indispensable to Lady Bertram and, without any other distractions to occupy her time, Mary Crawford seeks out her company, as well. One day, in a shower of rain, Dr. Grant rescues her with an umbrella, and the young women spend time together. During this conversation, Mary discusses her feelings for Edmund but criticizes his social position, and Fanny remains quiet.
Soon afterwards, Fanny - to her great delight - receives an invitation to dine at the parsonage. It is her first social invitation ever. In fact, with the exception of Sotherton, Fanny has only ever dined at Mansfield. After a great deal of fussing between Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris about whether Fanny should accept the invitation, it is finally agreed that she should. She wears the dress she wore to the wedding, and feels extremely nervous. Mrs. Norris attempts to put Fanny in her place by declaring that she should walk, but Sir Thomas orders the carriage to take her to the parsonage. Edmund accompanies her, and when they arrive they are surprised to find that Henry Crawford has returned from Bath, a popular resort. Fanny is happy Henry has returned, because his presence makes her less likely to be forced to talk at the dinner table. She finds herself annoyed by his comments about Maria and Julia, but remains quiet. She is unable to remain silent, however, when Henry criticizes Sir Thomas for putting an end to the play: Fanny tells him off, saying that it was a good thing Sir Thomas returned, and that things had gone far enough. Henry, at this point, becomes much more interested in Fanny Price. Meanwhile, Mary finds out that Edmund still plans on taking orders, and is much put out that he hasn't more interest in bettering himself socially and financially.
The next day, Henry tells Mary that he plans to stay on at Mansfield because he plans on making Fanny Price fall in love with him. Mary tells him that he only finds her attractive because he doesn't have anyone to compare her with since the two Bertram girls are missing. However, Henry, who is used to having women pay great attention to him, tells Mary that Fanny presents a challenge for him. Meanwhile, Fanny receives a letter from her brother William, a navy midshipman, informing her that he will be coming for a visit to Mansfield at Sir Thomas's invitation. The siblings haven't seen each other for seven years, and are overjoyed at the prospect of their imminent reunion. Henry realizes he can find the way to Fanny's heart by paying attention to her brother, whom he does come to greatly admire, and offers William the use of a horse during his visit.
Everyone's response to Sir Thomas's return reveals that they all felt that they were doing something wrong, yet proceeded with their plans nonetheless. They were, in fact, acting like children while the parents were away. The engaged Maria forgot her social position and reputation by flirting with another man and causing gossip to spread about her. Tom Bertram, who is supposed to be in charge, set up a totally inappropriate form of entertainment and revealed himself as willing to cast a bad light on his family name by making it public. Here, Austen criticizes the deeply-embedded social practice of primogeniture, which dictates that the first, or oldest (and not necessarily the best) son is the one who inherits the estate. While Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris are present, the women remain entirely clueless as to the inappropriateness of the young people's behavior. Although putting on a play is a practice that we might dismiss laughingly today as innocent, we must keep in mind the strict mode of conduct expected during this era.
Mansfield Park, Austen seems to be saying, is much in need of a strong, masculine hand. The absence of Sir Thomas resulted in chaos, but upon his return, things are set right.
In the absence of her cousins, the Bertram daughters, Fanny moves into a far more central role at Mansfield. She is favored by Sir Thomas: she finds his accounts of Antigua fascinating and wants to hear more about slavery, a practice which, although outlawed in England, remains legal in the Caribbean. Although Austen merely remarks on its existence in passing, the practice of slavery was a point of great contention in Britain at this time. The author could have been gently alluding to Fanny's social position, which casts her into a sort of no man's land. She is provided for by the family, but is expected to be at their beck and call without being given any wages. Furthermore, her future lies entirely in their hands.
The corrupting influence of Henry and Mary Crawford, who hail from London, come fully to light in these chapters. They are both manipulators intent on changing the country traditions of Mansfield. Mary is intent on disregarding Edmund's traditional second son status by urging him to aim higher. She cannot stand that he is the second son, and cannot view herself as the wife of a parson. Mary dismisses Henry's attempts to make Fanny fall in love with him, and seems impervious to the pain this might cause her friend. Simply put, the modern customs of the town (in the form of the Crawfords and Mr. Yates) are invading the peace, propriety, and traditions of the country. Edmund has made every attempt to maintain the proper high standards, but he is not the heir, and he too has become contaminated by his desire for the dazzling Mary Crawford. Even Fanny, at the last moment, almost fails under their spell. The patriarch's return, however, soon sets everything right.
Lord and Lady Bertram's marriage, here, is viewed in a very positive light. Although their engagement was initially of some concern because of the discrepancy in their social ranks, they married for love and remain in love - unlike their daughter, Maria, who has married for money and social position. Austen stresses the importance of companionate marriage, a popular nineteenth-century social construct, which declared that mutual feelings of love should be the primary criteria in selecting a mate. Although most people in the Western world consider it the individual right of every person to select the one with whom they desire to spend their life, it should be remembered that this idea is relatively new in the course of human history. Indeed, in many parts of the world arranged marriages are still carried out in the name of tradition. During Austen's time, the idea of companionate marriage was just coming into style. Clearly, Austen herself was a proponent of such marriages, and all of her novels champion this cause.