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Mansfield Park, Page 2

Jane Austen


  The little girl performed her long journey in safety; and at Northamptonwas met by Mrs. Norris, who thus regaled in the credit of being foremostto welcome her, and in the importance of leading her in to the others,and recommending her to their kindness.

  Fanny Price was at this time just ten years old, and though there mightnot be much in her first appearance to captivate, there was, at least,nothing to disgust her relations. She was small of her age, with no glowof complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy,and shrinking from notice; but her air, though awkward, was not vulgar,her voice was sweet, and when she spoke her countenance was pretty. SirThomas and Lady Bertram received her very kindly; and Sir Thomas,seeing how much she needed encouragement, tried to be all that wasconciliating: but he had to work against a most untoward gravity ofdeportment; and Lady Bertram, without taking half so much trouble, orspeaking one word where he spoke ten, by the mere aid of a good-humouredsmile, became immediately the less awful character of the two.

  The young people were all at home, and sustained their share in theintroduction very well, with much good humour, and no embarrassment, atleast on the part of the sons, who, at seventeen and sixteen, and tallof their age, had all the grandeur of men in the eyes of their littlecousin. The two girls were more at a loss from being younger and ingreater awe of their father, who addressed them on the occasion withrather an injudicious particularity. But they were too much used tocompany and praise to have anything like natural shyness; and theirconfidence increasing from their cousin's total want of it, they weresoon able to take a full survey of her face and her frock in easyindifference.

  They were a remarkably fine family, the sons very well-looking, thedaughters decidedly handsome, and all of them well-grown and forward oftheir age, which produced as striking a difference between the cousinsin person, as education had given to their address; and no one wouldhave supposed the girls so nearly of an age as they really were. Therewere in fact but two years between the youngest and Fanny. JuliaBertram was only twelve, and Maria but a year older. The little visitormeanwhile was as unhappy as possible. Afraid of everybody, ashamed ofherself, and longing for the home she had left, she knew not how to lookup, and could scarcely speak to be heard, or without crying. Mrs. Norrishad been talking to her the whole way from Northampton of her wonderfulgood fortune, and the extraordinary degree of gratitude and goodbehaviour which it ought to produce, and her consciousness of misery wastherefore increased by the idea of its being a wicked thing for hernot to be happy. The fatigue, too, of so long a journey, became soon notrifling evil. In vain were the well-meant condescensions of Sir Thomas,and all the officious prognostications of Mrs. Norris that she would bea good girl; in vain did Lady Bertram smile and make her sit on the sofawith herself and pug, and vain was even the sight of a gooseberry tarttowards giving her comfort; she could scarcely swallow two mouthfulsbefore tears interrupted her, and sleep seeming to be her likeliestfriend, she was taken to finish her sorrows in bed.

  "This is not a very promising beginning," said Mrs. Norris, when Fannyhad left the room. "After all that I said to her as we came along, Ithought she would have behaved better; I told her how much might dependupon her acquitting herself well at first. I wish there may not be alittle sulkiness of temper--her poor mother had a good deal; but we mustmake allowances for such a child--and I do not know that her being sorryto leave her home is really against her, for, with all its faults,it _was_ her home, and she cannot as yet understand how much she haschanged for the better; but then there is moderation in all things."

  It required a longer time, however, than Mrs. Norris was inclined toallow, to reconcile Fanny to the novelty of Mansfield Park, and theseparation from everybody she had been used to. Her feelings were veryacute, and too little understood to be properly attended to. Nobodymeant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secureher comfort.

  The holiday allowed to the Miss Bertrams the next day, on purpose toafford leisure for getting acquainted with, and entertaining their youngcousin, produced little union. They could not but hold her cheap onfinding that she had but two sashes, and had never learned French; andwhen they perceived her to be little struck with the duet they were sogood as to play, they could do no more than make her a generous presentof some of their least valued toys, and leave her to herself, whilethey adjourned to whatever might be the favourite holiday sport of themoment, making artificial flowers or wasting gold paper.

  Fanny, whether near or from her cousins, whether in the schoolroom, thedrawing-room, or the shrubbery, was equally forlorn, finding somethingto fear in every person and place. She was disheartened by LadyBertram's silence, awed by Sir Thomas's grave looks, and quite overcomeby Mrs. Norris's admonitions. Her elder cousins mortified her byreflections on her size, and abashed her by noticing her shyness: MissLee wondered at her ignorance, and the maid-servants sneered at herclothes; and when to these sorrows was added the idea of the brothersand sisters among whom she had always been important as playfellow,instructress, and nurse, the despondence that sunk her little heart wassevere.

  The grandeur of the house astonished, but could not console her. Therooms were too large for her to move in with ease: whatever she touchedshe expected to injure, and she crept about in constant terror ofsomething or other; often retreating towards her own chamber to cry; andthe little girl who was spoken of in the drawing-room when she left itat night as seeming so desirably sensible of her peculiar good fortune,ended every day's sorrows by sobbing herself to sleep. A week hadpassed in this way, and no suspicion of it conveyed by her quietpassive manner, when she was found one morning by her cousin Edmund, theyoungest of the sons, sitting crying on the attic stairs.

  "My dear little cousin," said he, with all the gentleness of anexcellent nature, "what can be the matter?" And sitting down by her,he was at great pains to overcome her shame in being so surprised, andpersuade her to speak openly. Was she ill? or was anybody angry withher? or had she quarrelled with Maria and Julia? or was she puzzledabout anything in her lesson that he could explain? Did she, in short,want anything he could possibly get her, or do for her? For a long whileno answer could be obtained beyond a "no, no--not at all--no, thankyou"; but he still persevered; and no sooner had he begun to revertto her own home, than her increased sobs explained to him where thegrievance lay. He tried to console her.

  "You are sorry to leave Mama, my dear little Fanny," said he, "whichshows you to be a very good girl; but you must remember that you arewith relations and friends, who all love you, and wish to make youhappy. Let us walk out in the park, and you shall tell me all about yourbrothers and sisters."

  On pursuing the subject, he found that, dear as all these brothers andsisters generally were, there was one among them who ran more in herthoughts than the rest. It was William whom she talked of most, andwanted most to see. William, the eldest, a year older than herself, herconstant companion and friend; her advocate with her mother (of whomhe was the darling) in every distress. "William did not like she shouldcome away; he had told her he should miss her very much indeed." "ButWilliam will write to you, I dare say." "Yes, he had promised he would,but he had told _her_ to write first." "And when shall you do it?" Shehung her head and answered hesitatingly, "she did not know; she had notany paper."

  "If that be all your difficulty, I will furnish you with paper and everyother material, and you may write your letter whenever you choose. Wouldit make you happy to write to William?"

  "Yes, very."

  "Then let it be done now. Come with me into the breakfast-room, we shallfind everything there, and be sure of having the room to ourselves."

  "But, cousin, will it go to the post?"

  "Yes, depend upon me it shall: it shall go with the other letters; and,as your uncle will frank it, it will cost William nothing."

  "My uncle!" repeated Fanny, with a frightened look.

  "Yes, when you have written the letter, I will take it to my father tofrank.

  Fanny thought it a bold measure, but offered no further resistance; andthey went together into the breakfast-room, where Edmund prepared herpaper, and ruled her lines with all the goodwill that her brothercould himself have felt, and probably with somewhat more exactness. Hecontinued with her the whole time of her writing, to assist her with hispenknife or his orthography, as either were wanted; and added to theseattentions, which she felt very much, a kindness to her brother whichdelighted her beyond all the rest. He wrote with his own hand hislove to his cousin William, and sent him half a guinea under the seal.Fanny's feelings on the occasion were such as she believed herselfincapable of expressing; but her countenance and a few artless wordsfully conveyed all their gratitude and delight, and her cousin beganto find her an interesting object. He talked to her more, and, from allthat she said, was convinced of her having an affectionate heart, anda strong desire of doing right; and he could perceive her to be fartherentitled to attention by great sensibility of her situation, and greattimidity. He had never knowingly given her pain, but he now felt thatshe required more positive kindness; and with that view endeavoured,in the first place, to lessen her fears of them all, and gave herespecially a great deal of good advice as to playing with Maria andJulia, and being as merry as possible.

  From this day Fanny grew more comfortable. She felt that she had afriend, and the kindness of her cousin Edmund gave her better spiritswith everybody else. The place became less strange, and the people lessformidable; and if there were some amongst them whom she could not ceaseto fear, she began at least to know their ways, and to catch the bestmanner of conforming to them. The little rusticities and awkwardnesseswhich had at first made grievous inroads on the tranquillity of all,and not least of herself, necessarily wore away, and she was no longermaterially afraid to appear before her uncle, nor did her aunt Norris'svoice make her start very much. To her cousins she became occasionallyan acceptable companion. Though unworthy, from inferiority of age andstrength, to be their constant associate, their pleasures and schemeswere sometimes of a nature to make a third very useful, especially whenthat third was of an obliging, yielding temper; and they could not butown, when their aunt inquired into her faults, or their brother Edmundurged her claims to their kindness, that "Fanny was good-naturedenough."

  Edmund was uniformly kind himself; and she had nothing worse to endureon the part of Tom than that sort of merriment which a young man ofseventeen will always think fair with a child of ten. He was justentering into life, full of spirits, and with all the liberaldispositions of an eldest son, who feels born only for expense andenjoyment. His kindness to his little cousin was consistent with hissituation and rights: he made her some very pretty presents, and laughedat her.

  As her appearance and spirits improved, Sir Thomas and Mrs. Norristhought with greater satisfaction of their benevolent plan; and itwas pretty soon decided between them that, though far from clever, sheshowed a tractable disposition, and seemed likely to give them littletrouble. A mean opinion of her abilities was not confined to _them_.Fanny could read, work, and write, but she had been taught nothing more;and as her cousins found her ignorant of many things with which they hadbeen long familiar, they thought her prodigiously stupid, and for thefirst two or three weeks were continually bringing some fresh report ofit into the drawing-room. "Dear mama, only think, my cousin cannotput the map of Europe together--or my cousin cannot tell the principalrivers in Russia--or, she never heard of Asia Minor--or she doesnot know the difference between water-colours and crayons!--Howstrange!--Did you ever hear anything so stupid?"

  "My dear," their considerate aunt would reply, "it is very bad, butyou must not expect everybody to be as forward and quick at learning asyourself."

  "But, aunt, she is really so very ignorant!--Do you know, we asked herlast night which way she would go to get to Ireland; and she said, sheshould cross to the Isle of Wight. She thinks of nothing but the Isle ofWight, and she calls it _the_ _Island_, as if there were no other islandin the world. I am sure I should have been ashamed of myself, if I hadnot known better long before I was so old as she is. I cannot rememberthe time when I did not know a great deal that she has not the leastnotion of yet. How long ago it is, aunt, since we used to repeat thechronological order of the kings of England, with the dates of theiraccession, and most of the principal events of their reigns!"

  "Yes," added the other; "and of the Roman emperors as low as Severus;besides a great deal of the heathen mythology, and all the metals,semi-metals, planets, and distinguished philosophers."

  "Very true indeed, my dears, but you are blessed with wonderfulmemories, and your poor cousin has probably none at all. There is avast deal of difference in memories, as well as in everything else,and therefore you must make allowance for your cousin, and pity herdeficiency. And remember that, if you are ever so forward and cleveryourselves, you should always be modest; for, much as you know already,there is a great deal more for you to learn."

  "Yes, I know there is, till I am seventeen. But I must tell you anotherthing of Fanny, so odd and so stupid. Do you know, she says she does notwant to learn either music or drawing."

  "To be sure, my dear, that is very stupid indeed, and shows a greatwant of genius and emulation. But, all things considered, I do not knowwhether it is not as well that it should be so, for, though you know(owing to me) your papa and mama are so good as to bring her up withyou, it is not at all necessary that she should be as accomplished asyou are;--on the contrary, it is much more desirable that there shouldbe a difference."

  Such were the counsels by which Mrs. Norris assisted to form her nieces'minds; and it is not very wonderful that, with all their promisingtalents and early information, they should be entirely deficient in theless common acquirements of self-knowledge, generosity and humility. Ineverything but disposition they were admirably taught. Sir Thomas didnot know what was wanting, because, though a truly anxious father, hewas not outwardly affectionate, and the reserve of his manner repressedall the flow of their spirits before him.

  To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallestattention. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spenther days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece ofneedlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug thanher children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not putherself to inconvenience, guided in everything important by Sir Thomas,and in smaller concerns by her sister. Had she possessed greater leisurefor the service of her girls, she would probably have supposed itunnecessary, for they were under the care of a governess, with propermasters, and could want nothing more. As for Fanny's being stupid atlearning, "she could only say it was very unlucky, but some people_were_ stupid, and Fanny must take more pains: she did not know whatelse was to be done; and, except her being so dull, she must add she sawno harm in the poor little thing, and always found her very handy andquick in carrying messages, and fetching what she wanted."

  Fanny, with all her faults of ignorance and timidity, was fixed atMansfield Park, and learning to transfer in its favour much of herattachment to her former home, grew up there not unhappily among hercousins. There was no positive ill-nature in Maria or Julia; and thoughFanny was often mortified by their treatment of her, she thought toolowly of her own claims to feel injured by it.

  From about the time of her entering the family, Lady Bertram, inconsequence of a little ill-health, and a great deal of indolence, gaveup the house in town, which she had been used to occupy every spring,and remained wholly in the country, leaving Sir Thomas to attend hisduty in Parliament, with whatever increase or diminution of comfortmight arise from her absence. In the country, therefore, the MissBertrams continued to exercise their memories, practise their duets,and grow tall and womanly: and their father saw them becoming in person,manner, and accomplishments, everything that could satisfy his anxiety.His eldest son was careless and extravagant, and had already given himmuch uneasiness; but his other children promised him nothing but good.Hi
s daughters, he felt, while they retained the name of Bertram, mustbe giving it new grace, and in quitting it, he trusted, would extendits respectable alliances; and the character of Edmund, his strong goodsense and uprightness of mind, bid most fairly for utility, honour, andhappiness to himself and all his connexions. He was to be a clergyman.

  Amid the cares and the complacency which his own children suggested,Sir Thomas did not forget to do what he could for the children of Mrs.Price: he assisted her liberally in the education and disposal of hersons as they became old enough for a determinate pursuit; and Fanny,though almost totally separated from her family, was sensible of thetruest satisfaction in hearing of any kindness towards them, or ofanything at all promising in their situation or conduct. Once, and onceonly, in the course of many years, had she the happiness of being withWilliam. Of the rest she saw nothing: nobody seemed to think of her evergoing amongst them again, even for a visit, nobody at home seemed towant her; but William determining, soon after her removal, to be asailor, was invited to spend a week with his sister in Northamptonshirebefore he went to sea. Their eager affection in meeting, their exquisitedelight in being together, their hours of happy mirth, and moments ofserious conference, may be imagined; as well as the sanguine views andspirits of the boy even to the last, and the misery of the girl when heleft her. Luckily the visit happened in the Christmas holidays, when shecould directly look for comfort to her cousin Edmund; and he told hersuch charming things of what William was to do, and be hereafter, inconsequence of his profession, as made her gradually admit that theseparation might have some use. Edmund's friendship never failed her:his leaving Eton for Oxford made no change in his kind dispositions, andonly afforded more frequent opportunities of proving them. Without anydisplay of doing more than the rest, or any fear of doing too much,he was always true to her interests, and considerate of her feelings,trying to make her good qualities understood, and to conquer thediffidence which prevented their being more apparent; giving her advice,consolation, and encouragement.

  Kept back as she was by everybody else, his single support could notbring her forward; but his attentions were otherwise of the highestimportance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending itspleasures. He knew her to be clever, to have a quick apprehensionas well as good sense, and a fondness for reading, which, properlydirected, must be an education in itself. Miss Lee taught her French,and heard her read the daily portion of history; but he recommendedthe books which charmed her leisure hours, he encouraged her taste, andcorrected her judgment: he made reading useful by talking to her of whatshe read, and heightened its attraction by judicious praise. In returnfor such services she loved him better than anybody in the world exceptWilliam: her heart was divided between the two.